Off to a good start

Last summer Jeremy Alessi's home air conditioning unit died and he and his family found themselves sweating in 90-degree heat.

But with hot air came a great idea —  Handheld Handyman, a dedicated video chat application. It was picked as one of the three winners of Start! Peninsula held at Christopher Newport University in Newport News [Virginia (USA)] earlier this month.

The idea came after a professional told Alessi he needed to see the unit in person to properly diagnose the problem but wouldn't be available for two days.

Unwilling to wait, Alessi used FaceTime on his iPhone to video chat with the repairman, allowing him to see the unit and fix the problem.

"That's when I had my ah-ha moment," Alessi said. "There was a dedicated objective for using video chat and it worked."

As a video game programmer, Alessi, 33, of Norfolk, was able to develop the technology on his own. He signed up for Start! Peninsula in search of branding and legal advice. He came away with both and $10,000 to get started.

Excerpts by Lydia Wheeler for Inside Business, originally posted December 7, 2012

The idea for Start! Peninsula came after StartNorfolk, which was first held in November 2011. Thomas Flake, director of the Peninsula Technology Incubator in Hampton, thought the Peninsula needed a startup weekend of its own.

Like StartNorfolk, Start! Peninsula was a weekend-long event designed to connect entrepreneurs with people who have investment capital, management, design and programming experience, to jump-start the best business ideas.

A panel of three judges narrowed the pool of entrepreneurial hopefuls down to 10 on Friday. Each was awarded office space in one of the five sponsoring area incubators, free telephone and Internet service, and xTuple, a business management software program that's produced locally in Norfolk. The sponsoring incubators included the James City County Business and Technology Incubator, the Hampton University Business Incubator, 757 Creative Space and the Peninsula Technology Incubator.

In addition to Handheld Handyman, Oralize, a device to detect the early stages of oral cancer through saliva, and Olde Virginia Cidery, a hard apple cider brewery, were the other two finalists.

Ankit Shah, 27, behind the idea for Oralize, is a doctorate student at the University of Virginia. He's studying at the NASA Langley Research Center and plans to stay in Hampton and develop his product idea. Last Wednesday, he said he was still trying to figure out how to utilize the money and proceed with development of the company.

William Correll, 22, creator of the Olde Virginia Cidery, is a student at Hampden-Sydney College. The college's Center for Entrepreneurship and Political Economy sponsored his trip to the event and his entry.

Originally Correll's plans were to locate the brewery in Martinsville, but now that he's made so many East Coast connections at Start! Peninsula, he wants to locate the brewery in Hampton Roads.

In the future, Flake said, the plan is to make Start! Peninsula an annual event separated from StartNorfolk by six months.

More on 2012 startup activity in the Hampton Roads/Norfolk, Virginia (USA) region.

Missy Schmidt

Vice President Marketing

Since early 2012, Missy has directed marketing for xTuple business management software, including the global user conference, inbound and outbound content marketing, lead generation, sales campaigns, website design and digital strategies. She has ties to the business and economic development, startup and entrepreneurial communities in Virginia and nationally. Prior to joining xTuple, Missy was VP of strategic communication and marketing for Hampton Roads Partnership, a public-private corporation that worked to improve the region's economy within the international marketplace. Before that, Missy spent 25+ in sales, including product development, within the industries of telecommunications, retail, industrial food service, government contracting, contract packaging and manufacturing. Missy holds a B.S. from James Madison University. She and her husband, Bert, who is president and CEO of WHRO Public Media, reside in the "innovation corridor" of downtown Norfolk.