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It began Friday, when dozens of hopeful entrepreneurs had 60 seconds to pitch their ideas and launch a dream.

By Sunday at the first ever Startup Weekend Missoula, 35 ideas had been winnowed to the top 12 ideas and one “rogue” idea was given permission to move forward in the workshop process.

For the entire weekend, 126 participants holed up in Missoula’s Lifelong Learning Center and divided into 13 teams to polish the pitches, do market research, design codes and products and consult with a team of innovative and successful startup business leaders from around the region.

Among the many startup ideas: “Don’t Worry,” an application that tells the people in your life you’ve arrived safely at your destination.

Another idea: “Gear Surf,” a website for people who want to rent out their gear.

Moving an idea into reality takes more than brainpower. It takes intensive networking with like-minded people, it involves gleaning best practices from people who have experience starting their own companies and it involves gaining access to investors, explained Bob Clay, a Missoula entrepreneur and chief organizer of Startup Weekend Missoula.

To that end, the goal of the weekend was to give entrepreneurs – or people with a good idea – a place to make things happen.

“We call it 54 hours of shut up and build it,” Clay said jokingly on Sunday during the final hours of the three-day event.

“Everyone here is learning how to create a startup or a business plan in a weekend,” he said. “By the end, they will give a presentation to angel investors, they will have created new ideas, tested ideas and learned where to go next in a safe environment that is supportive and helping them succeed.”

The Missoula event is the first of its kind in Montana and follows a blueprint created by Startup Weekend, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that is essentially a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures, Clay explained.

In 2011 alone, 400 weekend events in over 100 countries were held and this past weekend, nearly a dozen were held nationwide.

All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: Anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas as determined by popular vote and then it’s a 54-hour frenzy of business-model creation, coding, designing and market validation. The weekends culminate with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.

Among the many highlights of the Startup Weekend Missoula was the mentoring imparted by Greg Gianforte, who founded RightNow Technologies in Bozeman in 1997 and sold the company to Oracle for more than $1.8 billion in 2011.

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No matter which of the weekend’s top 13 ideas would be deemed No. 1, Chris Yates said the weekend was worth every minute of his time.

“The biggest problem I have had is finding people who are interested in working on my idea with me,” said Yates.

An already successful Missoula entrepreneur, Yates signed up for the weekend because he wants to start a new business that helps people make more money for their website.

“Here, I get to work with programmers, designers, marketing and business people to make it happen,” he said. “Had this not been here, I would not have met these people who are interested in my idea and this wouldn’t have happened.

“This is something we haven’t had before and it is very much needed – I’m looking forward to more things like this again.”

Ken Fichtler, a participant from Bozeman, echoed Yates’ sentiments.

“This has been a great opportunity to get to know like-minded people,” he said.

Such events can only lead to good things for participants – and for the state economy, Fichtler said.

“Montana’s economy will only grow by having more entrepreneurs,” he said. “These events gets more people like us together to put together good ideas.”

Excited about the event’s high energy and the many participants, co-organizer Liz Marchi said plans are under way for future Startup Weekends.

“Our hope is that we will do this in Bozeman, Great Falls, Billings and in the Flathead,” said Marchi, who is the fund coordinator for Frontier Angel Fund LLC, Montana’s first angel fund.

“Everybody who attends is a winner because they’ve gone through the process and they come away with a lot of feedback.”

The event website can be found at missoula.startupweekend.org

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