Editor's Note: For more college startup stories, stay tuned on Monday, March 17 as we announce Inc.'s Coolest College Startups of 2014.
On Monday, the TapFactory's Notefu.ly app (formerly known as Sticky Notes), which allows users to update notices across their desktop and mobile devices, beat out seven other college startups in a March Madness tournament-style event at the SXSW Startup Village. The pitch-off culminated a seven-month competition called Student Startup Madness, which was developed by Sean Branagan, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
The competition included virtual elimination rounds in which judges pared the field to 32 college-startup teams from 64, and eventually to the "entrepreneurial eight" who descended on Austin for the championship match.
Landing such a victory at a highly visible event like SXSW can serve as a springboard for young entrepreneurs not only to media mentions (ahem), but also to additional opportunities to network (and possibly work) with high-profile mentors and investors. And of course, there's the holy grail of the startup world that winning competitions can lend: instant credibility.
"The prestige of being one of America's best college startups" is a key benefit to winning, says Tas Peterson, 28, who co-founded the TapFactory, along with Mark Peterson, 30, Cameron Smith, 30.
Not that the company behind Notefuly needed any help. Today, according to Peterson, Notefuly has been downloaded more than 4 million times, and has generated more than $450,000 in sales. It’s been ranked as high as top three in the entire Apple App Store. And as Peterson points out, the TapFactory's revenues put the three-man team in the top 10 percent of developers in the industry, according to a survey by GigaOM.
As the winning team out of Seton Hall University, the TapFactory's co-founders win $5,000 in Google cloud credits, a trophy, and an interactive badge to the festival. The team also stands to benefit from continued contact with the panel of judges, which includes Brian Cohen, chairman of the New York Angels investment group, and Sandy Khaund, senior director of emerging technologies at Turner Broadcasting.
Surely the gang behind Notefuly hasn't learned everything yet. Even so, Peterson did offer some advice that might help other startups looking to take home similar accolades:
1. Be Prepared.
"I think we won because we were the most prepared. We put a lot of time into perfecting our presentation," Peterson says.
2. Seek Feedback.
"We sought feedback from anyone who'd listen," he says. "It helped us to communicate our business strategies and how we got to 4 million downloads."
3. Have Fun.
Most of all, Peterson advises, "have fun and be prepared for anything. Opportunities don't have schedules."