The spirit of entrepreneurship

Sometimes you're lucky enough to witness a piece of history. This was the case on Sunday, when over 150 entrepreneurs packed into Fishburners, Sydney, for the end of the latest Startup Weekend event.

Sometimes you're lucky enough to witness a piece of history. This was the case on Sunday, when over 150 entrepreneurs packed into Fishburners, Sydney, for the end of the latest Startup Weekend event.

The Startup Weekend event itself is a honey pot for entrepreneurs, where people form teams to build a product prototype in 48 hours, after which they compete for the judges' affections and a $5000 cash prize.

It is an opportunity to grab a slice of start-up history, and potentially launch a career, which attracts people from all walks of life.

While the entrepreneurs work hard to execute their vision, most products and ideas are largely derivative; solving a small problem, or developing an interesting application, and explaining how this will scale and, most importantly, make lots of money.

In what seems like pre-ordained fate, previous winner Ned Dwyer urged Darwin-born Melbourne student Sohum Raut to fly to Sydney to compete in Startup Weekend.

After surviving his $40 Tiger Airways flight, and following a slight misunderstanding with his accommodation (it was two hours out of the city), he made it to Fishburners, Ultimo, armed only with the clothes on his back and a laptop to try to win the two-day competition.

His woes didn't end there, as he was late to register, and missed the chance to pitch his idea to the crowd. When he found a spot on another team, he was quickly jaded by the team's internal politics and lack of vision.

He decided to go solo, but over the weekend he managed to miss key milestones, which threatened to exclude him from the pitches. However, in a sign of "divine intervention", organiser Tyson Lundbech stepped in.

Despite these obstacles, and with only a couple of hours' sleep, the first-year RMIT computer-science student coded furiously over the weekend to develop Medesen, a website selling cheap prescription drugs.

When he finally took the stage on Sunday night, the last of 21 pitches, the crowd and judges were exhausted from the intense weekend and hours of presentations.

However, the room was quickly energised as Raut slipped into his alter ego of amateur comedian.

Tucked away to the left of the stage, he seemed like a fish out of water, and his awkward demeanour indicated that he had no ambition to win the top prize, or that he even wanted to be there (he explained that Australia and the United States are terrible countries in which to try to sell prescription drugs).

The crowd repeatedly broke out in raucous laughter in response to the musings of this unassuming entrepreneur, who shared his observations that selling prescription drugs is one of the original businesses built on a subscription model, and one that naturally translates to online business.

He takes Centrum every day, he said, and after the Medesen website went live on Sunday morning, he made over $50 of sales to friends and family via Facebook, including his grandfather, on diabetes medication.

There was one problem.

"Unfortunately, this means that tomorrow morning I have to get up and go to Woolies to buy the medication I sold, and send this to my friends," Raut said, to rapturous applause.

While he missed out on the $5000 (it went to a gym sales application), he won the "best loser" award, winning an iPad for his troubles, and SingTel Innov8 should be commended for recognising Raut's unique skills.

Startup Weekend judge and local community organiser Peter Cooper declared, "If this doesn't work out, you definitely have a career in comedy."

As part of his acceptance speech, which he almost successfully avoided, Raut explained that he had already entered the technology into Startup Chile, where "prescription drugs are freely distributed because it is a Communist country".

Like a comedian highlighting life's absurdities, Raut's story is a reminder of what entrepreneurship is really about: having fun and trying something new.


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