David Pierce’s GSB Story – South Bend, Indiana

The following is a guest post by David Pierce, Software Developer from Startup Weekend headquarters, about his Global Startup Battle experience.

South Bend, IN feels like most midwestern towns I’ve either lived in or visited: full of friendly people, somewhat sleepy, and never lacking in charm. It is a smaller midwestern city of around 100,000 people.

Though its economic history is largely marked by manufacturing and farming industries, today it boasts a technology infrastructure that could support businesses for today’s highly technical economy. However, two large shadows loom over South Bend in a way that sets it apart from other cities. One is cast by its rich entrepreneurial legacy and the other comes in the form of the University of Notre Dame.

South Bend showed up on my radar when I was assigned to fly there to facilitate a Startup Weekend event. Before that, I had certainly heard of Notre Dame but didn’t know South Bend existed. After meeting some of the people there, I got the sense that this is a common pain point; South Bend is a wonderful city and yet not enough people know about it.   

To illustrate what I mean, Grant–a Startup Weekend South Bend Organizer–drove me around the town to point out all of the wonderful parts of the city. As I got to see all the potential–both past and present–I wondered out loud why I hadn’t heard of any of these things before. Just then, we drove past the College Football Hall of Fame and Grant pointed out most people have heard about Notre Dame football without ever knowing there was a city called South Bend with gems of its own.

Regarding its legacy, South Bend was once a large presence on the American entrepreneurial map. Located between Detroit and Chicago, South Bend was home to great American companies like the Studebaker Corporation, Oliver Corporation, and Honeywell. These companies led an entrepreneurial wave that vitalized the community and created jobs and other supporting companies. Some of those larger organizations have since ceased operations, and the large empty warehouses are a testament to an entrepreneurial movement that once was.

However, the outlook on South Bend is not nearly so bleak. In fact, I came away absolutely inspired and enamored with this community. Despite the shadows cast on South Bend, the spark of entrepreneurship still prevails and illuminates a rich and budding ecosystem primed to change the face of the city.

To tell you what I mean more eloquently, Drew, one of the participants, says it best in his own words:

Regardless of what kind of entrepreneur you want to be it can be a daunting and scary task to even begin. It’s often not clear where to start but often times the biggest problem is that you will face challenges and it can be easy to say “I quit” when you hit them. That’s part of why Startup Weekend was so great. You had the resources and the other participants there as a community willing and ready to help you turn your crazy 1 minute pitch into a viable business opportunity in 54 hours. Wouldn’t it be great if that idea could flourish here, if we could create a culture of entrepreneurship with a community to support it? I think so and I bet we’ll see something coming soon to address this. Stay tuned.  
–From Drew’s Blog

And that is what I love so much about my job: we help passionate local leaders ignite the spark that introduces a community to a world of entrepreneurship. In the 54 hours I served as facilitator, I got to see representatives from local business, politics, education come together to work with people South Bend community and see ideas turn into potential companies. What was most fun to see were people who never would have met otherwise discovering that theirs is a community full of other passionate and talented people just like them. From young to old, men and women, tech folks to makers, this Startup Weekend was full of a diversity of backgrounds and a wealth of great ideas. To see the passion and inspiration overflowing from the community coming together in the name of entrepreneurship made it well worth the trip across cultures and time zones. Ours was a smaller event–about 25 people–but the ideas pitched were so varied and diverse. 
One thing I saw that the South Bend community really cares about its city and it really cares about helping others. Of the 13 ideas that were pitched Friday night, the 4 teams that formed and presented on Sunday represented a wide range of ideas. ConnectHelp seeks to connect human services to the people that need them and CityAction is a platform to facilitate communication between government, businesses, and citizens to create and maintain beautiful communities. Other ideas were centered around physical products. For example, SwitchBlade combined machine tooling and Internet platforms to create a “barber in your mailbox” experience. Keep it in the Bowl found a way to improve the restroom experience in RV’s.

I can’t wait to hear what cool stories come out of South Bend and I hope to go back to see how things have changed someday.

Shortly after South Bend’s GSB event, local leaders created this group for people in the community to share resources and meet up.