While everyone’s gearing up for South by Southwest this week, 32 people will already be on their way there. Departing at 6 a.m. tomorrow is Boston’s own StartupBus, and in 72 hours this team of strangers will be expected to conceive, build and launch different startups, all while traveling 60 miles per hour on their way to Austin, Texas.
The idea for the hackathon originated in 2010, after founder Elias Bizannes wrote a blog post joking that him and his friends were taking a road trip from San Francisco to SXSW in Austin. Their end goal was to have launched a startup upon arrival. After a few unexpected blog posts, and several random emails, the joke turned into something serious, and Bizannes had to scramble to find a bus with WiFi, sponsors and people he’d later call “Buspreneurs” who’d be willing to ride along with him.
There were 25 people who decided to hop on board, and it was then they created an annual tradition. Six functional prototypes were built after those three days on the road, and the team who had the best pitch was offered funding to turn their prototype into an actual business. Last year, the StartupBus expanded into a larger competition, and now teams are departing from New York, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Cincinnati, Florida, Louisiana, Mexico, Las Vegas, Washington, Mexico and, of course, Boston.
Leading Boston’s bus will be a co-founder of Calorie Count, Igor Lebovic, who was a member of last year’s winning team, Tripmedi. “I really appreciate last year’s experience so much more right now,” Lebovic says, referring to his switch from “buspreneur” to “conductor.”
Since his experience on the StartupBus, Lebovic admits it’s become a benchmark he’s been trying to measure himself against ever since. Whenever he’s with his Calorie Count team — comprised of three people from his SXSW experience — and someone says a project will take seven days, he has to ask, “Really?” Thinking back to his time on the bus, they had half the time and launched an entire venture. When he brings this up to his team, they tend to nod in agreement, admitting, “You’re right, we have to be able to do this quicker.” This experience is “going to stretch [participants] expectations of themselves and everyone else,” Lebovic says.
So who’s headed to SXSW this week? Out of the hundred calls Lebovic made in the past few weeks, here are some fun facts about 11 of the final 31 buspreneurs, who could probably be best described as spontaneous, competitive and ready to work.
Christine Liu — Currently the online managing editor at America’s Test Kitchen in Brookline, Liu’s the one who spearheaded the Boston Food Truck Festival in 2010. Even better, she became a local community manager for HowAboutWe in 2011. Not only has she then helped us fall in love with food trucks, but she’s helped us fall in love with each other.
Todd Miner — A native of Westwood, Mass., Miner has over 10 years of experience in international development and nonprofit organizations. He’s worked with the World Bank, United Nations, the Center for International Earth Science Information Network and the New York Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. More impressive — that’s not even the half of it.
Ravi Singh — So, Singh is the co-founder of three different companies: Toodalu, Answer Underground and Code Mountain. If that’s not enough, he’s also won eight different hackathons, including Best Retail App iOS DevCamp 2011 and the ATT Morningstar Hackathon First Place for Mobile 2011.
Alexandra Askot — After graduating from Boston University in 2008, Askot bought a dog on the Internet and decided to move to San Francisco on a total whim. Since, she’s shuffled from San Fran to New York City, where she now works as an art director at MRMWorldwide.
Avinash Dabir — Dabir’s also a graduate of Boston University and still has ties to his former employer: Boston’s m-Qube tech mafia. After mQube was acquired, Dabir moved to New York City to work in digital media for NBA and NBCUniversal.
Teddy Worcester — Currently in his fourth year at Wheaton College, Worcester is working on the marketing team for SaveUp, a personal finance startup out of San Francisco that rewards people for saving and paying down their debt. (We love the sound of that.)
Jordan Wolf — While he says he’s no Willy Wonka, he admits he is “making the world a little tastier with the ever-lasting gobstopper of plastic – PolyFlav flavored plastic.” Wait — what? Just look up Add the Flavor.
Jarrett Goetz — The co-founder of Four Elements Media, Goetz was once an MIT Sloan Fellow and holds an MBA from MIT, an MPA from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a BBA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Brandon Passley — A Chicago-based entrepreneur, Passley is the co-founder of Vokal Interactive, a mobile design, development and strategy agency, which services clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies, two of which call Boston home.
Tiffany Wilson — After catching the entrepreneurship bug and starting her first company in college, Wilson’s gone on to work for other early stage startups in New York, including CassaDecor, Edit.com and Spaceworks Real Estate. She’s now gone back to starting her own venture, set to launch within the next few months.
You’ll be able to track the bus online, both on the site and via Twitter. Following stops in North Carolina, Louisiana and San Antonio, Texas, the Boston StartupBus is expected to arrive in Austin on Friday afternoon around 3 p.m. Keep your eyes peeled for their demos. Winners can even go party with the Streetwise Media team later at South by Streetwise. Get ready to hack (and party)!