Houston’s winning idea would help businesses navigate government permitting; Facebook voting continues through Nov. 27
Anyone who has ever started or owned a business knows that the process of securing government permits can be confusing, complicated and costly.
James Wroblewski, a former Honors student at the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business, knows a way around this stumbling block.
Wroblewski is a co-founder of PermitMe!, a new business that won the 2012 Startup Weekend Houston. Wroblewski and his four teammates won the feverish, 54-hour competition, held over the Nov. 9-11 weekend at Houston Technology Center, and have advanced to the Global Startup Battle.
The Houston team — including former UH students Varun Ambrose and Chris MacNaughton — are now locked in battle with more than 100 teams from around the world in the Internet phase of competition. Fifteen finalists will be determined by a Facebook voting campaign that ends Nov. 27. Finalists will be announced Nov. 28, and a jury of successful entrepreneurs will name the winner Nov. 30.
“No matter what you are doing, you have to get a permit,” says Wroblewski, a former Marine who studied Management Information Systems while attending UH on the GI bill. “It’s a hassle. It’s expensive in both time and money. There’s a lot of confusion. Often you have to go to an expediter or to a lawyer, which costs you a lot of money. And so it’s a significant barrier to entry.”
Wroblewski believes his Bauer College experience gave him the skills to win the competition. He credits team leader Bruce Haupt with the PermitMe! idea. Haupt works in the City of Houston’s Finance Department and holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University. The fifth team member, Bano Benavides, has a degree in environmental science with a minor in business management from Stephen F. Austin State University.
In a video presentation created by the Houston team and available for viewing by Global Startup Battle voters, a narrator explains: “PermitMe! helps you chop through the red tape. We researched and organized the data and cut out all of the legal mumbo-jumbo.”
According to the video, there are 13,000 restaurants in Houston alone, and “each business often needs to navigate 10-plus departments to obtain upwards of 20 permits.”
Founded in 2007, Startup Weekend is a Seattle-based non-profit that organizes weekend events “where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups.” As of October 2012, more than 57,000 entrepreneurs from around the world had participated in Startup Weekend, resulting in more than 5,000 startups. The Kauffman Foundation, Google and Microsoft are sponsors.
Last year, Bauer professor Hesam Panahi was on the team that won Startup Weekend Houston, held on the UH campus. Moving on to the Global Startup Battle, Panahi’s team placed 3rd nationally and 16th globally. The Houston group created Tapja, an interactive story-making application for children.
“Startup Weekend is a great opportunity to take an idea, find a team of cofounders and make substantial progress toward building a product and company,” said Panahi, who helped organize this year’s Startup Weekend Houston events. “Everyone should take a moment to vote for PermitMe in the Global Startup Battle, and show the rest of the world that Houston is committed to entrepreneurship and helping startups grow.”
By Wendell Brock