In 1993, high arsenic concentrations were first discovered in the groundwater of several wells in Western Bangladesh. Six years later, the BBC reported that after 50,000 wells were tested, 40 percent were too contaminated with arsenic to provide drinking water. The crisis continues to plague the country—a country home to Minhaj Chowdhury’s parents, a Fulbright Scholar who came to Boston Startup Weekend’s “Battle for the Charles” looking to make a difference.
And not only did he make a difference, creating an early warning system called “Ashalytics” for the developing world with six other teammates, he helped win the competition for Boston and hopefully, one day, Bangladesh.
Startup Weekend kicked off on Friday night, when participants formed teams around 20 ideas. Those ideas were then given room to grow in Cambridge’s Microsoft NERD or Boston’s The Bocoup Loft, as entrepreneurs battled it out to see which city rules the startup roost.
Teams had four minutes to pitch on Sunday, followed by three minutes for questions from the judges. The panel included: Bobbie Carlton, founder of Carlton PR and Marketing and co-founder of Mass Innovation Nights; Linda Woods, director of customer marketing at Brainshark; Andre Porter, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Dan Gregory, co-director of the Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurship Education; Mark Sprague, founder of Lexington eBusiness Consulting; and Michael Cohen, a corporate attorney for Brown Rudnick.
Ashalytics came out on top, winning almost $5,000 worth of final prizes, as well as entry into Startup Weekend’s Global Startup Battle, where over 1,200 teams are competing in 100-plus cities around the world.
“We never could have imagined Startup Weekend would be so open to us,” Chowdhury said following the win. “I thought this was all about building iPhone apps.”
Although the weekend did bring several iPhone apps, ranging everywhere from On The Set—an app that allows users to see what’s being filmed or has been filmed near them—all the way to Med Guru—an app that helps travelers stay healthy and find medications abroad—Chowdhury was hoping the Ashalytics team “could tug at people’s hearts.”
Chowdhury had been tossing around the idea ever since his sophomore year at John Hopkins University. Lacking the ability to code, he said he came to Startup Weekend with his roommate looking for developers. Yet, what he found were “people who want to code to change the world.” And now that the weekend is over, Chowdhury claimed they’re going to try and give Ashalytics a proper go.
Startup Weekend Co-Founder Franck Nouyrigat said 12 percent of people in the room on Sunday would continue working on a startup within the next year, pulling from global statistics. His advice? “Don’t give up! You will fail. … One of you guys will make it. The only one who gives up is the one who is never going to make it.”
Although, to some, this might have just been a weekend, to Nouyrigat and the Startup Weekend organizers: “This is just the beginning of a gigantic revolution.”
For a look at images participants snapped throughout the pitches, check out the slideshow below.