The Halloween That Changed My Life: Submitting To Thrill Mill’s Business Bout Two Years Ago

I can’t believe it was two years ago when I discovered The Business Bout and rushed to complete an application THAT VERY SAME NIGHT. I had only moved to Pittsburgh from California just four months ago. My “company” at the time, then known as Academica, was only a fragment of its original Startup Weekend team – truthfully, I was the only one who stayed onboard.

The Original Team Academica.

The Original Team Academica

Still, I put together the best possible application that I could, one that featured two Yalies, two former co-workers from my days in television, two classmates from the West Coast, and three people I had recently met in Pittsburgh. Our projections were highly baseless, our plan of action non-existent. All we had was our convinction. I had no other hope whatsoever in making it any further than the submission process.

The Original Team Scholar Hero. I'll never let... you get the point.

The Original Team Scholar Hero

I was in Manila when I got a large email from Bobby Zappala say that we’ve been accepted into the first cohort of “The Hustle Den,” the now-retired name of the co-working space owned and operated by the eponymous Thrill Mill. We were offered a full year of workspace, networking opportunities, mentoring, and any other support they could provide.

My first reaction, of course: who the heck was Bobby Zappala?

Turns out some Duke and Pitt Law graduate decided to leave the Pittsburgh legal world and do more for his hometown. A few of his close friends – Luke Skurman, Serge Smailbegovich, Kevin Heher, and Alex Palma – had been running an annual event called the Baller BBQ for years, raising money for a startup prize competition: The Business Bout.

The Original Ballers: Alex, Bobby, Serge, Kevin, Michael

These men had built up so much money and support the next move was to create more opportunities for local startups to grow and thrive. This led to the creation of a co-working space in Pittsburgh’s up-and-coming East Liberty sector, and the re-branding of their event to, of course, the Thrival Festival.

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Moby: The Original DJ (trademark pending)

I remember my first encounter with Bobby – it was a late night in the middle of Broad Street, and a huge-grinning Zachary Quinto-looking dude waited for us outside of a vacant building in a shady neighborhood. He escorted upstairs to show us our new home for the next year.

Luke and Bobby, who insists we say he’s the one “on the right.”

The months that follow were incredible. I worked alongside people who were enthusiastic about their work, genuinely supportive of one another, and eager to become close friends, if not “startup family.” We pitched our ideas at Google, stayed in close contact afterwards, and for some of us (especially me), we never quite left… physically.

Working in Thrill Mill.

Scholar Hero in Thrill Mill.

Thus, I know that there are probably a few teams right now wondering if they should pull the trigger and apply to Thrill Mill’s third class. I started my application about three hours before the deadline, and I’ve built a company I’ve quite proud of since then.

What’s the worst that can happen? Here’s the link: http://thrillmill.com/apply/

Lee Ngo
Founder, Scholar Hero
Thrill Mill: First Class Cohort
Thrill Mill Second Class Alumni Mentor

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Scholar Hero is accepted into the Idea Foundry’s Entertainment & Ed Tech Accelerator Program!

Yay!

(from left) Technical Director Michael Butler, Founder and Executive Director Lee Ngo, and Idea Foundry Program Manager Gary Gardiner

Amazing news for Scholar Hero! On November 5th, 2013, we have accepted our invitation to join the Idea Foundry’s Entertainment & Ed Tech Accelerator Program! The Idea Foundry (www.ideafoundry.org) is one of Pittsburgh’s premiere technological and business startup accelerator programs in southwestern Pennsylvania. Their Entertainment & Ed Tech program is unparalleled in the region, and it is perfect for Scholar Hero’s current aspirations.

For Scholar Hero, this is a terrific milestone. This program provides the company with its first official investment, just nine months after its incorporation and barely a year after its initial conception during Startup Weekend Pittsburgh #2. The Idea Foundry also provides mentoring, advisement, and other standard resources that come with a prestigious, competitive accelerator. We haven’t been this excited since being selected as part of the inaugural class of the Thrill Mill Hustle Den incubator program!

Scholar Hero founder Lee Ngo pitching at Google Pittsburgh for the Thrill Mill Thrival Innovation series.

Scholar Hero founder Lee Ngo pitching at Google Pittsburgh during Thrill Mill’s Innovation Series.

Another great perk about the Idea Foundry is its close proximity to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, schools with students, professors, and staff that we hope will be among the first early adopters of our platform. Testing and validating our product could not be made any easier for us now, and we hope that more established partnerships might emerge as well from the improved locations.

Moreover, because of our acceptance into the Entertainment & Ed Tech Accelerator Program, we are also being evaluated early for Idea Foundry’s highly competitive Core Program as well. Potentially, this puts us in a position to receive more funding! (One step at a time…)

The Scholar Hero Development Team hard at work on our first prototype.

The Scholar Hero Development Team hard at work on our first prototype.

“We are truly ecstatic and grateful to have the support of the Idea Foundry as we continue to develop our platform and build our potential user base,” says Lee Ngo, founder and executive director of Scholar Hero. “Program Manager Gary Gardiner and the Idea Foundry have provided us with wonderful feedback over the course of the year, and they have been a major influence in our overall conceptual, technical, and business development. We look forward to our continued partnership over the next three months and beyond.”

We hope that this is the first of many future successes to come! Our selection into this renowned accelerator program provides further validation for our unique and innovative concept, but now the pressure is on for us to deliver! We hope to do you proud, Idea Foundry!

To learn more about Scholar Hero, visit http://www.scholarhero.com or fill out the contact form below:

Lee Ngo is the founder and executive director of Scholar Hero, Inc. All rights reserved.

Scholar Hero’s Presentation at Google Pittsburgh: Thrival Innovation 2013

Founder Lee Ngo pitches to an audience at Google Pittsburgh on 9/7/2013. Photo courtesy of No Typical Moments (www.notypicalmoments.com)
Founder Lee Ngo pitches to an audience at Google Pittsburgh on 9/7/2013. Photo courtesy of No Typical Moments (www.notypicalmoments.com)

Has it really been a week since our company’s first major presentation to the Pittsburgh technology
and entrepreneurial community?

After several all-night preparations and collaborations with other teams incubated in the Hustle Den, an incubator owned and operated by Thrill Mill, Inc., we pulled off what felt like the impossible: a concise 5-minute pitch at Google Pittsburgh demonstrating our proof of concept. Here’s a clip of the presentation (scroll to the 1 hour, 17 minute, 36 second mark for our presentation):


Video courtesy of Thrill Mill, Inc. (www.thrillmill.com)

Lamentably, the video does not do the presentations justice. It is amazing how much our companies have grown over the last several months. In our case, we were little more than a handful of good ideas that needed to be refined into a bona fide company. For our successes, we must thank Thrill Mill for the opportunity they’ve given us as well as the countless people who have contributed to our development along the way.

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Founder Lee Ngo poses with founders Rachel Bane and Jimena Quan of Mix: a salad-themed restaurant for the Pittsburgh community (photo courtesy of Scholar Hero)

Still, we have a long way to go. A few more milestones ahead include:

  • Overhauling the landing page to reflect our new direction
  • Creating a public beta version of our product
  • Securing some early seed funding to help us support that beta
  • Expanding our network via social media (especially this blog)
  • Solidifying our core founding team
  • Generating that first dollar of revenue
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How we do after a long day of pitching: The Thrival Music Festival (photo courtesy of Scholar Hero)

Keep an eye on this blog and our landing site http://www.scholarhero.com for more updates!

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Lee Ngo is the founder and executive director of Scholar Hero, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Remember, Remember, the 7th of September: Thrill Mill’s Thrival Innovation + Music Festival

Scholar Hero has been excitedly preparing for this upcoming Thrival Innovation + Music Festival on September 7th, our first opportunity to show off some of our hard work to the Pittsburgh public. As members of the Hustle Den’s inaugural cohort, we have been invited to join other startups and entrepreneurs to talk openly to attendees and potential investors about our products and future plans.

The Origins of the Thrival Festival

The Thrival celebration is actually an annual celebration organized by Thrill Mill, Inc., featuring several musical acts and festivities, all towards raising money for The Business Bout. Thrill Mill co-founder and chairman Luke Skurman http://about.me/skurman originally came up with the idea in 2005 to strengthen the Pittsburgh entrepreneurial community and reduce the pattern for the city’s young talent to emigrate to other larger cities. Years later, it is now one of the biggest networking events in the city.

Ultimately, The Thrival Festival is meant to close out the summer strong with entertainment and connection with the Pittsburgh entrepreneurial community. There will be food and drink available for attendees as well as live-performing musical artists such as De La Soul, RJD2, and Frightening Rabbit. Proceeds will go to Thrill Mill, Inc. to further support and incubate the next cohort of brilliant entrepreneurs.

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Scholar Hero’s Thrival Role

Scholar Hero will be one of the 13 Hustle Den companies to be stationed in Innovation Row at Bakery Square and delivering a brief pitch to potential investors at Google Pittsburgh. We will be showing prototypes of three products, all designed to assist scholars in creating and sharing their work:

·      Amino – A document assistance service helps structure ideas and data, preventing the writer’s block that comes with “blank page syndrome”

·      Synthesis – A document sharing service designed for acquiring rich community feedback.

·      Fusion – A mobile solution to “crowd-reviewing,” involving a gamified, ranking system.

You can read about all of the Hustle Den companies here. http://thrillmill.com/meet-the-teams/

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The Thrival Innovation + Music Festival is September 7th from 12:00pm to 10:00pm. More information can be found here: http://thrivalfestival.com/about/.

Help us celebrate those that choose make a difference. As Thrill Mill co-founder and CEO Bobby Zappala said: “You can’t change the size of Pittsburgh, but you can change how people think about it.”

Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

An Ode to Startup Weekend Pittsburgh (from an “Alum”)

The stuff that dreams are made of.

Startup Weekend Pittsburgh Spring 2013 came and went this past weekend with three well-deserving winners out of nine compelling presentations:

  • In 3rd Place: BrewMetrics, an app for beer enthusiasts that recommends other beers to you based on your preferences. Check out their app demo on YouTube.
  • In 2nd Place: SpareSpace, an app that connects people with excessive belongs to people with room to spare in their homes. Their Twitter account is here.
  • Grand Prize Winner: ShareCloset, an app that enables people to inventory, display, and share clothes with other people online.

    They even have a cool graphic and trademark!

Immediately after the judges announced the winners, I knew that some teams were heavily disappointed by the results. After all, Startup Weekend is one seductive beast of a competition, where every team that pitched had confidence enough to stand in front of a very tough crowd, and thus many would feel like they should have won. Personally, I thought this cycle’s competition was so fierce that I couldn’t comfortably predict the top three.

For all the teams that did not place or get recognized for their hard work: I feel your pain, and yours will go away soon.

After all, Scholar Hero was initially conceived out of the previous Startup Weekend Pittsburgh competition as “Academica,” and even we were convinced that we’d knock it out of the park. Of course, we ended up losing to some very qualified teams, but we held our heads high and decided to keep going anyway.

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Our original icon. How vintage.

Outside of the top three that placed back in our late September competition, several teams out of that competition  have continued on and made terrific progress thus far, such as:

  • Fashion Field Guide, an app that aims to provide fashion-impaired men with improved style tips, became the initial product of Engineered Style. This company is now in the current cycle of AlphaLab, a top incubator in Pittsburgh if not nationwide.
  • MegaBits, a mobile app game that is strikingly similar to a particular Japanese monster-fighting phenomenon in the 1990s, was selected by local accelerator ThinkTiv alongside the competition’s winner ThoughtfulHusband.
  • Even our company, Scholar Hero, was named a finalist for the Thrill Mill’s Business Bout just a few months later, and we’re certainly enjoying our new home at The Hustle Den, Pittsburgh’s newest incubator.

All of this became possible with the efforts of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh, and it’s safe to say that this competition changed many of our lives for the better. Thus, for everyone that’s still feeling a little bit down about not placing, just know that it isn’t about winning or losing, given the sheer multitude of factors that go into it.

Visionaries behind two kitchen-based ideas come together. This is when magic happens.

Visionaries behind two kitchen-based ideas come together. This is when the magic happens.

Startup Weekend is really about meeting new professionals in your town and coming together to be entrepreneurs, to create something amazing in a very short amount of time. If you came out of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh having accomplished either one of those criteria, then you came out of it a huge winner.

As for the next step in your entrepreneurial pursuits, well, that is entirely up to you. Good luck!

The views expressed are solely of Lee Ngo and do not reflect or represent the general views of Scholar Hero, Inc.