Rackspace Hosts the “Hackers, Hipsters and Hustlers” of StartUpBus

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
A typical workspace at Rackspace. Sectional walls are lower than traditional cubicals and employees are encouraged to liven up their space with decorations.

A typical workspace at Rackspace. Sectional walls are lower than traditional cubicals and employees are encouraged to liven up their space with decorations. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

biopicA skateboard with a secret compartment large enough to fit a laptop: Briefskate. A service that connects buyers and suppliers in the construction industry: Usupply.me.  A platform for political action: Grassroots.io. An anonymous chatroom that assigns users names like “SmokeyGoatboy:” ghostPOST.io. A crowd-sourcing book publisher: NextChaptr. Heard of ExVersion, the data set format regulator? How about Cloudspotting? It’s a simple website that provides visitors with stock cloud photography and a (digital) pencil to anonymously sketch out what they see in the white fluff.

Heard of these yet? No? That’s probably because, for the most part, the ideas, designs, websites, and business pitches were conceived at 60 miles an hour less than a week ago.

StartUpBus team members wait to board the bus to SXSW.

StartUpBus team members wait to board the bus to SXSW.

The creators haven’t slept much, eat whatever they can get their hands on, carry backpacks filled with computers and sleeping bags, their workspaces are about three square feet. Showers aren’t always available.

This is StartUpBus, a mobile and rigorous “hackathon” competition that aims to give a crash-course in entrepreneurial enterprise to aspiring young (and old) game-changers. Teams must complete different tasks and milestones throughout the tour to compete and earn points, including the use of social media to publicize their product and short promotional video production.

Craig Cannon, from the nine-person California bus’ ghostPOST team, said that the experience, while at times difficult, has been a valuable one.

“We’ve basically had to build the website twice,” he said. “The structure of (StartUpBus) can be frustrating … but we’ve learned a lot about how to pitch effectively.”

The ghostPOST team pitches to the panel of judges. Photos by Iris Dimmick.

The ghostPOST team pitches to the panel of judges. Those aren’t rude team members on their phone, they’re preparing to demonstrate the mobile-friendly, anonymous chat room on the screen behind them. Photos by Iris Dimmick.

More than 150 “hackers, hipsters, and hustlers” – from New York, California, Florida, Mexico City, and Illinois crowded into six buses bound for Austin to attend South by Southwest (SXSW). But first, the StartUpBus made a stop in San Antonio for two days to hold the semi-final and final* presentations at “The Castle,” Rackspace’s corporate headquarters.

The winning pitch: The New York bus team CareerMob, a job and mentor search for military veterans leaving active duty that hopes to smooth their transition back into civilian professions and “normal” life. The service matches a veteran’s military skills and background to possible career paths, shows them what additional training/schooling may be required for certain fields, and connects them to volunteer mentors.

CareerMob, winner of the StartUpBus finals at Rackspace. From left: Matthew Bergami, Valerie Lisyansky, James Solomon, Tatiana Alexsadrovna and Josh Seefried.

CareerMob, winner of the StartUpBus finals at Rackspace. From left: Matthew Bergami, Valerie Lisyansky, James Solomon, Tatiana Alexsadrovna and Josh Seefried.

“It started as out as a skills-to-career matching application,” said CareerMob team developer Josh Seefried, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, author, and co-founder of the LGBT active duty organization OutServe, and soon-to-be veteran. “The mentorship part will help them transition easily from the military lifestyle to civilian … it’s meant to be a kind of safety blanket.”

CareerMob team member Valarie Lisyansky is a freelance organizer based in New York City who helps startups – basically, an entrepreneur that helps entrepreneurs organize their technical and business plans (very meta).

“There is a methodology to starting a small business quickly and using less money,” Lisyansky said of her work. “Many entrepreneurs don’t know who or what they’ll need to see a project through, or how to manage growth. I help them through that process.”

Co-working spaces, much like Geekdom, have begun to sprout up internationally – creating an entire startup industry. With startup success stories like Twitter, Instagram and Rackspace, it’s hard not to wonder if the ideas and products created this week will be worth millions of dollars down the road. Six months after Twitter’s launch, it had only 13,000 users. Cloudspotting had 5,000 users by its second day. Twitter is now worth more than $8.4 billion.

While teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges (Rackspace and industry higher-ups), some teams watch to glean information about their own pitches, others continue work on their products and business strategies.

While teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges (Rackspace and industry higher-ups), some teams watch to glean information about their own pitches, others continue work on their products and business strategies.

Only a few products a year actually get funded to continue beyond the competition as-is, said Mike Caprio, software engineer, StartUpBus community leader and former StartUpBus participant.  StartUpBus, a not-for-profit organization, is 100% volunteer run – by folks just like Caprio.

Many ideas pitched today will be sold, changed, or incorporated into existing companies, he said.

But the point of the competition isn’t necessarily to win best product or “to create a profitable company, but to accelerate people who will disrupt the status quo – empower them to change the world,” Caprio said.

This is the fourth annual StartUpBus tour to Austin and the SXSW music, film and interactive festival, and the first time both presentation rounds were held here in SA.

Rackspace has, in a sense, “hijacked” the presentation portion of the tour for San Antonio – a city that has begun to stake its claim in the technological industry and startup communities.

“We decided last year to move away from the craziness of SXSW,” said StartUpBus Founder Elias Bizannes, an Australian accountant-turned-entrepreneur. “It cuts costs to stay (in SA) instead … and Rackspace is one of the top companies in the (technological) industry.”

Rackspace occupies what was once Windsor Park Mall. The company has transformed the dead mall into a playful, modern workplace that includes sectioned off conference rooms, escalators, and is home to the old gondolas from Brackenridge Park.

Rackspace occupies what was once Windsor Park Mall. The company has transformed the dead mall into a playful, modern workplace that includes sectioned off conference rooms, escalators, and is home to the old gondolas from Brackenridge Park.

Rackspace, the San Antonio-based cloud computing and hosting company, was itself a small startup in 1998 when three Trinity University students pitched the idea to co-founder Graham Weston and a partner investor. It now has data centers and offices overseas and 205,000 customers located worldwide.

Here’s a video montage of the day of StartUpBus’ arrival at Rackspace by Producer and Video Storyteller David Sims:

 

Adam Hansen, a small-to-medium business advocate at Rackspace, is a part of the company’s Startup Program. The StartUpBus competition was, naturally, coordinated through this program. All clients of Rackspace have access to support and help, but the Startup Program offers smaller clients an “extra nudge with mentoring,” Hansen said, “to understand growth, changing industries, and basically how to build and expand their business … we’re like tour guides to the startup industry.”

The program also offers grants for startups ranging from $500 to $2,000 in monthly and annual hosting costs.

A typical workspace at Rackspace. Sectional walls are lower than traditional cubicals and employees are encouraged to liven up their space with decorations.

A typical workspace at Rackspace. Sectional walls are lower than traditional cubicals and employees are encouraged to liven up their space with decorations.

Hansen said that Rackspace’s dedication to startups is more than good business, it’s a way of paying it forward.

“We’ve been there, where these (StartUpBus) kids are today,” he said. “And we still kind of are the ‘scrappy, black sheep’ of the IT industry.”

The StartUpBus, not officially affiliated with SXSW, continued to Austin Thursday afternoon to attend the SXSW Startup Crawl hosted by Rackspace, where the hackers, hipsters and hustlers will continue to pitch and promote their products at the SXSW Startup Village.

Iris Dimmick is managing editor of the Rivard Report. Follow her on Twitter @viviris or contact her at iris@rivardreport.com.

 

Related Stories on the Rivard Report:

UPDATED: Atlantic Cities’ Focus on San Antonio

Scholarships and Jobs: Toyota and Alamo Colleges Strike Deal

Geekdom: One Year Old and Best in Texas

State of the Center City: More Housing, Fewer Vacant Buildings

San Antonio: Growth in High-Tech is on the Horizon

Dear Mr. Mayor: Call San Antonio the ‘City of Opportunity’

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *