A 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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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, 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.
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.