When Lauren Carbaugh arrived at the Orlando Magic Innovation Challenge on Feb. 3, she had no intention of pitching her idea, much less working with a team to make it a reality.
By the end of the weekend, however, she was on stage, celebrating as her SportsVerse idea took home first place in the event.
Carbaugh said the intensity of a weekend-long startup building activity was new to her.
“It is just really interesting just how close you get in just a couple of days and how much you can accomplish,” said Carbaugh, a 21-year-old UCF finance student. “My big takeaway is to just never doubt yourself.”
The event eventually saw 10 projects finished with the majority of them based on specific challenges the Orlando Magic shared on Friday.
Among the finished projects were a Magic-themed Metaverse environment that offered fans games and quests, a party bus that would pick up fans and bring them to Amway Center for home games and esports-related experiences.
Magic: event a ‘no brainer’
Orlando Magic Assistant Director of Innovation Andrew Bekemeyer said the team considered it a “no-brainer” to return a second year after 2022’s inaugural event.
“We recognize the value of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology in Central Florida,” he said. “There is this collaborative spirit in this community. We want to be an integral part of that.”
The Orlando Magic has become known as one of the more innovative franchises in the NBA.
The team was the first in the league to accept Apple Pay in 2014.
Beacons throughout Amway Center work with the team’s mobile app to enable a handful of technologies.
And in 2018 they partnered with ride-sharing service Uber to offer drop-off spots around the arena.
“Innovation is one of our four core principles,” Bekemeyer said. “It’s a buzzword in this day and age but … we embrace it.”
So-called hackathons usually put teams together at the start of a weekend and have them build a product by Sunday night.
The Magic and local event company HyperValidation hosted the Innovation Challenge.
The buy in of a major organization like the Orlando Magic not only lends credence to the event.
It also benefits participants, said Cameron Ford, executive director of UCF’s Blackstone Launchpad.
“To see that (the Magic) saw value in it and they made an investment was really great, especially seeing them at the event to encourage the students,” said Ford, one of the event’s judges. “It’s a great opportunity for young people to be in a corporate environment around really high-quality professionals.”
Students relish chance to build
That was one benefit Rollins College student Evie Flaugh took away from the event, which was her first hackathon.
Her team finished in third place for the idea of a party bus hyping up Magic fans during home games.
She said the Magic’s participation was crucial and impressive.
“They asked us genuine questions,” she said. “They took our ideas seriously.”
Flaugh pitched the party bus idea and quickly recruited a team to build it.
However, she said one of the biggest lessons she learned during the weekend was to be collaborative.
“I had moments where I was really stuck on my idea, got stuck defending it,” she said. “But I found most meaningful progress we made was when everyone was able to talk about it and contribute.”
Carbaugh, the UCF student considered her Roblox-obsessed cousins and nephews when she came up with her pitch.
That helped her come up with a Metaverse-like experience for Magic fans.
The initial idea is a 3D world based in Amway Center that allows virtual visitors a chance to shoot hoops and participate in other mini-games.
She attended once she received an email from Ford, laying out the event.
“When I got the email about the event, it was him giving me resources to succeed beyond college,” she said.
Energy level high all weekend
Ford said he was impressed by the energy level throughout the weekend.
Before the event, he told students that it’s as much about perseverance as it is about building a company.
“Some teams fall apart and it’s a survival thing,” he said. “But if they leave when they are feeling down, they miss the upside of coming back again and not understand the whole experience. You don’t really get it unless you stick with it, start to finish. The ‘innovation challenge’ is called a ‘challenge’ for a reason.”