The Washington Post

The Download: Dispatches from the road to Austin

The 30 Washington area entrepreneurs settle in on D.C. StartupBus before departing for Austin. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For Capital Business)

A busload of 30 entrepreneurs left the District at 6 a.m. on March 6 bound for South By Southwest in Austin. Their task was straightforward, if ambitious: Create a company along the way. But the 1,500-mile trip to the annual technology and entertainment festival was anything but simple. There were Internet outages, sleepless nights and unexpected stops. Upon arrival on March 9, the D.C. “buspreneurs,” along with participants from 10 other locations, presented their new ventures to a panel of judges. Capital Business asked a few D.C. StartupBus passengers to blog from the road. Here are their stories:

Pitching ideas

While waiting for the bus to arrive, most people were already networking. Once the bus took off, passengers walked to the front of the bus in no particular order to pitch business concepts.

The ideas varied wildly. There was a smartphone application that tracks nutritional information and another to buy sporting event tickets. Some of the ideas were well thought out, while others seemed spontaneous.

The final business ideas represented all the basics of life, including sports, giving, food and education.

Before the first day even drew to a close, projects had names and tag lines. Heads were down as coding began and buspreneurs began to lay the groundwork for viable businesses.

— Ray Daly, programmer, Vienna

Getting to work

There isn’t enough room on the bus for the 30 people it houses. The Internet is spotty. Power sources are scarce. And I’m in no position to go to sleep if we’re going to finish this smartphone app on schedule. Our ideas are grand, but time is tight.

As the clock ticks, we are forced to look at our dream, and chip away the layers to a product we can, in actuality, finish in three days of work. Existing among a group of creative people who live life outside the box, there is immeasurable value in a jolt like this competition.

Experiencing setbacks along this journey is nearly inevitable as we learn what we know and what we don’t. It’s true trial by fire. For me, there’s no better way to learn.

— Adam Kerpelman, co-founder of District-based software design firm Kerplinq

Meet the teams

Eight teams have grown out of the D.C. crew. The start-ups, like the buspreneurs, are very diverse and come from many industries. They include:

CuriousCity, a resource for those looking for the best alternative lifestyle parties.

Givingline, a platform that allows community members to ask for help and give help.

MyBento, a twist on Pinterest, allows users to collect bite-size collections of things they like.

SportsBadgr, a way to connect fans, games and team-loyal bars to create the ultimate fan experience outside of the stadium.

Tourious, an application that connects travelers with guides to help them find local experiences.

Ultra Ratings, a way to help professors become better teachers by providing a platform that enables college students to give real-time feedback.

yOURTABle, an application that helps users split the bill at restaurants and offers suggestions based on what they like.

Zingiber, an e-mail application for the carsick (inspired by the bus).

— Derina Man, District-based environmental consultant and the D.C. StartupBus organizer

Working together

It is impossible for one developer to know all the pieces that must fit into place when building an application. Ordinarily, I just use the tools I know until I get backed into a corner, then I have to research for hours on the Web. But on the StartupBus, a solution to the problem might be right down the aisle.

The passengers on the bus keep it friendly. Though we are divided into separate companies, the D.C. buspreneurs are one team against buses from other cities. We are all going through the same marathon together and we may work with each other again when we get back to D.C.

This collaboration also allows you to discover new technology. In casual conversation with other teams, it is common to ask about the tools they are using.

This kind of camaraderie and discussion is the real advantage of heading down the highway with our very diverse group. Working in this environment definitely has its appeal.

— R.D.

The other buses

When the organizers of the D.C. StartupBus mapped the journey to Austin, we intentionally chose an indirect route. Our goal was to allow the buses from several different cities to cross paths.

Our first destination was The Brandery, a consumer marketing venture accelerator in Cincinnati. From there, the Cincinnati and D.C. buses caravanned to Nashville and met up with the bus from New York City. There we had yet another pitch session, followed by meetings with mentors the next morning.

On the second day, the three buses departed for Baton Rouge. The Louisiana bus hosted an event and Boston joined up with the crews from New York, Cincinnati and D.C.

On the third day, all 11 buses set their sights on San Antonio, where everyone converges before heading to Austin for the final showdown.

In the end, the competitive spirit and sense of camaraderie defines the StartupBus journey.

— D.M.

March 7

Near Pittsburgh,

March 6

Baton Rouge,

March 8

San Antonio,

March 9

March 7

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.



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