Last Tuesday, 336 passengers set out on a road trip headed straight for the big Interactive, Film and Music Festival that happens every March in Austin, Texas. Originating from 11 regions all over the continent, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Boston, Cincinnati, Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisiana, Mexico, New York, Stanford University, and Washington D.C., teams of hacker-entrepreneurs hit the open road armed with energy drinks, protein bars, and travel pillows. But this isn’t your typical ‘beef jerky and Beach Boys on the radio,’ road trip, these “buspreneurs” have one ambitious goal in mind: to create the most viable tech start-up in just 72 hours. Startup Bus was first created and launched from San Francisco, two years ago, by Australian entrepreneur, Elias Bizannes. Passengers on the bus build up their entrepreneurial repertoire by “developing their experience, network, skills, and confidence.” The closed quarters of the buses make it an ideal environment for a start-up, since the opportunity to share ideas is ever-present and buspreneurs can rest (well, not so much—they only have 72 hours, after all!) assured knowing the peers giving them advice on their products have been tried and vetted by industry professionals. And indeed they have. Each of the 11 bus conductors hand-selects the entrepreneurs based on an unique application—a blank text field—in which hopefuls submit one-liners, essays, and in some cases, their own software programs. Bus conductors have the special charge of motivating participants, offering them professional guidance, and keeping them on task.
At the heart of the Startup Bus is network and mentorship, two of the most important components for starting or growing a business. Before you decide to take your big idea to the next level, talk to a mentor you trust, who has been through the process already. Ask your current business peers and contacts about your proposed product or service and collect feedback on how they might use it in their professional or personal life. Taking full advantage of your network and mentors can help you tweak and fine-tune your idea into a reality.
The 2011 Startup Bus winners were TripMedi, a Yelp-style site designed to help people partaking in medical tourism, and WalkIn, a program that allows people to check-in to restaurants on their cell phone, thus eliminating the need for the buzzers most restaurants currently use. This year’s Startup Bus ideas include a tax application to help small businesses manage their tax obligations throughout the year and one of my personal favorites, a program named Adventeur that allows you to choose your own adventure in a city based on your stated preferences. Let’s see, I want to start a business, which helps other businesses grow, with a bunch of really awesome and smart people—looks like I’m already here!