Business startup event shows ‘you are never too old’ to try something new

Ronald Ragen puts Alexandra Diethelm and Jennifer Steingraeber on Friday.  By Sunday, they had taken out Marlborough's first Startup Weekend, impressing judge Stephanie Benseman, right, in the process.

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Ronald Ragen puts Alexandra Diethelm and Jennifer Steingraeber on Friday. By Sunday, they had taken out Marlborough’s first Startup Weekend, impressing judge Stephanie Benseman, right, in the process.

A “pressure cooker” competition – a cross between The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den – has unearthed entrepreneurial talent in Marlborough – and he’s 80.

Ronald Ragen signed himself up for Marlborough’s first Startup Weekend last weekend looking to try something “totally different”.

Ragen was paired with fellow competitors Alexandra Diethelm and Jennifer Steingraeber, and together they worked on a business idea called “Dog Along” – a one-stop shop for travelers wanting to find dog-friendly places in New Zealand.

Ragen described the 54-hour competition, from meeting on Friday to pitching to judges on Sunday, as a “challenge”. But that’s what attracted the IT business owner to it in the first place.

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“It was getting me out of myself, and looking at the world, and working on a totally different experience with total strangers, and under a lot of pressure.

“So that was the appeal to me, and it is one of those things, you are never too old to do it.”

“Dog Along” scooped first prize on the Sunday, an added treat after Ragen celebrated his 80th birthday on the Saturday night with the rest of the competitors, 35 in total.

“The brilliant thing about this whole thing is that it spawned community.

“We weren’t working in competition with each other even though we were different people working on different concepts.

“There was a sense of community, amongst a whole group.”

“Spray Hub”, an app for viticulturists, took out second place.

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“Spray Hub”, an app for viticulturists, took out second place.

Eight teams were pulled together on the Friday night. Second place, in the end, went to an app for viticulturists to help them organize their workloads. Third place went to a card game for teenagers.

“A concern I had was whether I would have the physical and mental stamina to work under those conditions, because it was full-on, and I literally mean non-stop,” Ragen said.

“[But] it was so exhilarating that I could have kept going longer. Having said that, by [the end]I was absolutely exhausted.

“In terms of the achievement, it was awesome. The whole process was eye-opening. It opened up things inside me that I wasn’t aware of, like the ability to see challenges and opportunities and convert them into something that’s real,” Ragen said.

Tourism specialist Alexandra Diethelm, 37, who came down from Auckland for the event, loved working with her team.

“We did have some heated discussions, but they were extremely productive and valuable.

“We all got along really well, listened to each other’s suggestions, as well as the mentors’, and took the best part of every suggestion to create Dog Along.

“Even though we didn’t go with my original idea, I feel that we created something over the course of the 54 hours that can have a real future as a viable business.”

The team behind “Why”, an educational card game for teenagers, came third.

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The team behind “Why”, an educational card game for teenagers, came third.

Startup Weekend Marlborough project manager Tracey Green said she was impressed by the “massive transformation” the business ideas went through from Friday to Sunday.

Green thought 50% of them could continue on as actual businesses.

“But we have to let the dust settle, some of them are still probably going to be talking about it.

“We are hopeful that we do see some convert, but the reality of these events [is]less than 1% turn into businesses.”

The Startup Weekend concept started in the United States 15 years ago. The Marlborough event was organized by Business Trust Marlborough and the Marlborough District Council. Another Startup Weekend, in Marlborough, was in the works for July next year.

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