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Bellingham contest gives 54 hours to turn an idea into a business

The Access Travel team works on its proposal on the second day of the 54-Hour Startup Challenge on Saturday, Jan. 30, in Bellingham. The team’s business would offer a travel website for people with disabilities.
The Access Travel team works on its proposal on the second day of the 54-Hour Startup Challenge on Saturday, Jan. 30, in Bellingham. The team’s business would offer a travel website for people with disabilities. eabell@bhamherald.com

Filling a need is the goal of any new business, and this year’s 54-hour Bellingham Startup Challenge winning team came up with a solution to a tough travel problem.

The event involves teams competing to turn an idea into a business startup over the course of a weekend. This year’s winner was Access Travel, a business that would have a travel website specifically for those with disabilities.

Daman Wandke explained in a YouTube video that as a national disability advocate, he travels frequently. He finds that hotel websites do a poor job presenting accessibility options for those with disabilities. He worked with Jeremy McLaughlin, Patrick Garrett, and Ashley Ziencina to create a company to address this issue.

Coming up with solutions to a problem was the theme of the top three teams in this year’s challenge, which took place Jan. 29-31 at 1308 Cornwall Ave. This year’s event had eight teams: The second-place team, called Dibs, created a company that focused on helping people with specific skills connect with those who need help. The third place team was Trail Trolley, which helps people enjoy the local mountain bike trails.

“Overall it was a fantastic event,” said Art Sherwood, director of the IDEA Institute at Western Washington University. He was one of the organizers. “The three that won did a great job understanding the needs of the market and coming up with a business solution.”

Tyler Byrd, CEO of the tech company Red Rokk, said this year’s event had a bit of chaos as some teams changed ideas when something wasn’t working while others stuck with the same idea to the end. Byrd, who has been involved in organizing this event for the past four years, said they decided to hold the competition in an empty storefront this year. That made it possible for people to drop by during the 54 hours to see how the teams were progressing.

Winning the event was merely for bragging rights, but Tyler said the real motivation for these entrepreneurs was to meet others and brainstorm ideas.

“It’s a fun way for them to network,” Byrd said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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