If you’ve ever been part of a startup, you know all about competition. You start with a great idea, and, from there, it’s largely about making it to market first, having the best product, attracting the best talent, finding the best investors and staying on top.
So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to learn that the Startup Games, taking place in Austin this Saturday, are a lot more than a few friendly games of foosball to raise money for charity. In fact, the games, now in their fifth year, are fiercely competitive. In many cases, it’s even competitive internally as companies hold try-outs or playoffs to ensure they have their company’s best people playing to their strengths.
This year, 14 companies are going head-to-head in hopes of being named the Most Competitive Startup. SpareFoot, the storage-finding startup, is the reigning champion. The company has taken the cake three years in a row. But, before we get involved in bragging rights, let’s take a look at where the games got their start.
Back in 2012, a group of startup CEOs, including those from uShip, SpareFoot and Boundless Network, let their friendly competitions about whose team had the best extracurricular talent grow into full-fledged competition. And, atop the bragging right, they decided to add a charitable component that would help the greater community.
“They all thought they had the better ping pong player or shuffle board guys,” said Douglas Ray, director of events for the Startup Games. “So they decided it was time to prove they have the best team.”
It started with eight companies dueling in bracket-style competition. The next year, the games grew to include 16 companies. So far, the games helped donate about $175,000 for a wide variety of charities.
The games feature many of the same games you’ll find being played during breaks or after hours at startups around town — ping pong, beer pong, pop-a-shot, foosball, flip cup, shuffleboard, trivia, darts, Connect Four and liar’s dice (CEOs only). And, this year, the games are adding the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Kart. The games also always have a mystery event, which, in the past, has included bull riding, jousting and a maze.
This year, the only hint we have for the mystery event is that it will require four people per team and it will be physical — so, basically, it could be pickup basketball, doubles tennis or underwater basketweaving.
Ray said that the companies have a blast — but never loose sight of the prize.
“It gets pretty serious,” he said. “Most of the companies come out in some sort of costume. They have chants. And they have flags. Some of them really get into it. They all seem to have tryouts of some sort. But the newer teams may not know until they come to the games (how much other teams have been practicing) and the next year they start earlier.”
Each year, the games invite a celebrity of some degree to carry the torch for the games. Last year, SpareFoot jokingly hired Hafţór “Thor” Björnsson, who played Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane on HBO’s Game of Thrones, to join its team (though he didn’t actually participate in the games), and he ended up carrying the torch. This year, it’s Quan Cosby, the NFL wide receiver who once played at The University of Texas.
The Startup Games are an Austin thing. But Ray said the nonprofit is looking to get the games going in other cities. He said the organization is looking at Denver, Chicago and Kansas City as potential fits.
The Startup Games begin at noon on Saturday at Fair Market on E. 5th Street.