SXSW-Bound 'Buspreneurs' Found Start-Ups on the Way
Technology Editor, CNBC.com
Companies often get started in some unusual places. Google and Apple started out of garages and Facebook was founded in a dorm room. Now, a group of more than 100 entrepreneurs are founding their start-up on a bus.
That's right, a bus.
The group of 152 people—made up of coders, developers and designers—are taking the Startup Bus down to Austin, Texas, for SXSW, a festival that includes one of the largest technology conferences.
Participants on six different buses travel from various cities in the U.S. and Mexico City to Austin. During their journey the entrepreneurs are tasked with building a start-up from start to finish in just three days. They then spend the last two days of their five-day voyage competing to be named the best start-up company.
The "buspreneurs" are now in their fourth day on the road and preparing for the semi-finals. The winners will compete in a final round on Friday when the participants arrive in Austin.
Australian native Elias Bizannes, the founder of the start-up incubator on wheels, said that the mobile, express start-up project began as a joke when Bizannes suggested renting a bus to get to SXSW and starting a company on the way.
But when he launched the project, he didn't expect for anyone to actually create a successful company. Rather, he was focused on developing people and networking. Now, though, his project is in its fourth year and actually churning out companies that are getting funded.
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"I had no real expectation that companies would actually come of it," Bizannes said. "We are seeing an increase in quality and real start-ups happening, but our primary goal is developing people."
Being on a bus and only having a few days forces the participants to really focus, Bizannes said.
"This is a brilliant way to develop people, we call it constrained-place thinking. We are creating an environment to teach entrepreneurs," he said. "The deadlines and the constrained-space thinking moves the people to perform quickly. There are a lot of challenges that you have to overcome. You drop the attitude and focus on getting things done."
Josh Seefried, a 27-year-old active-duty Air Force officer and participant in the competition, is one of the founders of a competing start-up called CareerMob, which is aimed at finding employment for veterans.
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Basically, it's a website that narrows down possible career options for veterans by asking them questions about their skills and preferences. Based on their responses, it gives them options for a non-military career path. It also pairs them with a mentor to help with the transition back to civilian life.
"It's been a blast, I had no idea who else was on the bus and did not know my teammates at all. I pitched my idea on the first day on the bus and people flocked to it really well," Seefried said. "To have the product that we have in such a short amount of time shows the world we live in today; anything is possible."
Elaias Schuchlleib, a 29-year-old participant, is part of the Mexico City team and one of the founders of his teams' company USupply.me. It is focused on pairing buyers with sellers, and works by allowing buyers to ping sellers of products when they need to make a purchase, then the sellers can respond to the buyers request and bid for the business.
Both CareerMob and USupply.me are competing in the semi-finals Thursday.
Schuchlleib said the experience has been inspiring, despite the claustrophobic nature of the competition.
"It's amazing to just go and see what we can build in only 72 hours in the worst conditions possible," Schuchlleib said. "It really shows that the sky is the limit."