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Tech entrepreneurs competing in Wichita to come up with best business ideas

Have you ever wanted an ingredient for an exotic recipe but didn’t want to buy a whole bottle of it?

There’s a group of tech entrepreneurs in Old Town working on solving that right now.

It is one of the teams involved in an exercise in creative technology and marketing called Start Up Weekend.

This weekend, groups of tech-savvy designers, coders, marketers and entrepreneurs are working on business ideas.

Their immediate goal is to win the competition. The ultimate goal is to come up with products and business plans that are good enough to actually implement.

They started Friday night by each pitching an idea and voting on the best. Turning those ideas into businesses is the goal of the rest of the weekend.

The ideas are ingenious: an online service that delivers exact amounts of recipe ingredients to your door; a social network that allows people to sell or trade their skills with neighbors; and smartphone apps that eliminate the blizzard of business cards handed out at conferences, that allow movie-goers to rate movies immediately and that alert people when they have drunk too much.

“There are no rules, just guidelines,” said Kenton Hansen, who organized the event.

As part of the competition, local experts on legal, financial and business issues were on hand to give specific advice.

The group behind Pantry Drop, the cooking-ingredients-delivered-to-your-door business, was dealing with a particularly ambitious and knotty business idea.

On Saturday, group members were coming to grips with the difficult question of logistics. Their idea is to start this service in Brooklyn, N.Y., with its concentration of busy, well-paid professionals. As they delved into the idea, issues kept cropping up: Who will supply the ingredients to the business? Does it need a warehouse? Do delivery employees chop the onions themselves? How much will people pay for this service?

One question was whether the site should be designed so users could order ingredients by cutting and pasting a recipe directly into the website.

There was some doubt about this, the reasoning being that putting too much burden on users would be a mistake.

“The number of people I’ve tried to tell how to cut and paste and they still don’t get it is amazing,” said Jill Sandberg.

“It’s not that people can’t learn how to, they won’t learn,” said Josh Hampel.

“It’s because the cost of learning is too high,” said Erin DeGroot.

By the afternoon, coffee had been replaced by the occasional beer. While some typed code to create user interfaces, others developed the apps themselves, and still others researched potential customers. At times, someone would pop a head over a keyboard to ask a question. Others in the group would toss around answers until a consensus was reached. Progress was being made.

All groups will pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges on Sunday evening.

It’s a beautiful thing to see the work being done for the competition, said Jonathan George, one of Wichita’s most successful tech entrepreneurs and a guiding spirit for the competition who was giving advice to the prospective tech entrepreneurs.

When he started his tech business in 2006, Wichita really didn’t have the talent and culture to do what was happening in the room Saturday, he said. Today, it does.

“It’s pretty neat to see this and to see people working together who wouldn’t necessarily know each other,” he said.

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