Business focus of Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend is an international movement inspiring business development in places like London, Berlin, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Casablanca, Tokyo, Manila, Shanghai and Sydney – just to name a few.

But Maui?

“Why not?” asked Arben Kryeziu, a 37-year-old Kula resident who grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and moved to Maui 13 years ago after he met his wife here on vacation. Kryeziu founded Bump Network, a software and technology solutions company, and last year co-founded mbloom, a business incubator and technology fund.

Headquartered in Seattle, Startup Weekend sets up and supports a 54-hour event that brings together entrepreneurs interested in learning more about the basics of founding a business idea and launching it into a successful business venture.

With Startup Weekends happening all over the world, and seven weekends, so far, in Honolulu, Kryeziu said that he thought it could come to Maui but he was met with skepticism about whether the island had enough information technology designers, developers and “the right mixture” of people for the event to work here.

“I told the guys on Oahu, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll put my foot forward,'” he said.

Kryeziu needed about 30 participants, and eventually 52 developers, marketers, product managers, technical and technology experts and entrepreneurs signed up for Maui’s first

Startup Weekend, May 16 to 18, at the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei. There were nine presentations on startup business ideas, and three were selected as winners, with two of the top three coming from Maui. (The top winner was Tam Thao Pham and Adam Tait, a San Francisco couple who participated in the event after learning about it while here on vacation. Their idea was an innovative calendar-sharing app called Tabtop.)

The Maui winners were Haiku businessman David Fry and his team, capturing second place with an idea called Destination Hui; and Kihei podiatrist Dr. Steven King and his team, winning third place with a plan to develop shoes and boots that reduce stress fractures.

A former Army officer, King said he has been working on his advanced composite insoles idea for about eight years. His company, Kingetics LLC in Kihei, has received federal grants from the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command to develop the product. But he said that his business has not received funding yet to test the boots, specifically with combat soldiers.

Startup Weekend helped inspire King to be even more determined to get his product on the market.

“I think it helped me to focus on a business plan and really look at how to go about it,” he said.

Another event participant, Kihei engineer Ned Davis, said that the Startup Weekend “sounded like an interesting opportunity.”

About a month earlier, he had started Maui Water Solutions, a business in water conservation and purification, said Davis, who also serves as vice chairman of the Maui Economic Development Board.

Davis said that he was “amazed” at his team’s ability to develop and build a prototype of a water desalination unit in one weekend.

“One of the biggest things I got out of it was seeing that the product actually works. Theory is fine but getting a working product done was even better,” Davis said.

He said he was grateful for the time he spent networking with other entrepreneurs, one of whom showed great interest in becoming a business partner.

The weekend coaches and judges were also very helpful, Davis said. “The judges had good advice, gave context and talked about potential next steps.”

MEDB President and CEO Jeanne Skog served as one of six coaches to the Startup Weekend participants.

“The synergy and collaboration Startup Weekend produced reaffirmed the talent, creativity and skill we have on Maui,” Skog said. “Every one learned from each other and walked out of the event a winner.”

According to Startup Weekend’s website, the events follow the same basic pattern. Participants pitch their startup ideas and receive feedback from their peers. Teams form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then set to work to create a business model, design and market the ideas. The weekends culminate with presentations to entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.

Overall, Kryeziu said that the Maui event was quite a success, with participants feeling the “energy of Maui” and invigorated with the idea that they can “play with the big boys.”

“There is a community on Maui. There is a drive,” he said. “It was very inspiring.”

Startup Weekend has event organizers and facilitators in more than 200 cities around the world.

Kryeziu said there’s no question now that a Startup Weekend can be successful on Maui. Now, the only question is when the next one will be. Another one is in the works within the next six months, he said.

“We just have to nail down dates,” he said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at