Editor's note: Ten young professionals from the Tampa Bay region were on board the StartUpBus as it made its way from Miami to Austin in early March. Nathan Schwagler, creative in residence at USF-St. Pete, was part of a winning team that created MyNewman. Here is his story:
"What a long, strange trip it's been. …"
These classic words borrowed from the Grateful Dead tune, "Truckin','' are the most fitting words I can find to describe the phenomenon that is the StartupBus. Entrepreneurs: Mount Up
On March 7th, 2011, a motley crew of entrepreneurially inclined web designers, developers, marketers and business strategists from the Tampa Bay region combined with 19 other entrepreneurs from the Southeastern United States and boarded a bus in Miami, FL.
The mission, should each "buspreneur" choose to accept it: brainstorm business concepts with complete strangers, converge upon the best ideas, form implementation teams, and then turn the most promising ideas into functioning businesses -- in 72 hours.
Oh, and by the way, you must do this on a bus, enroute to the SouthBySouthwest festival in Austin, TX. Did I mention that you'll be launching companies with strangers, on a bus?
As the bus approaches Austin, a panel of experts will evaluate your technology and business model. If everything checks out, you've earned yourself a slot in the semifinals. Great job. Now get back to work! The finals are in three days.
Three Rules of StartupBus:
• There are no rules
• Don't expect to sleep
• Don't rely on the on-bus wifiYoung Roots
Startup Bus is the brainchild of Elias Bizannes
. In 2010, he and his beer-mates playfully concocted the notion of launching a busload of entrepreneurs tasked with founding companies mid-journey from San Francisco to SXSW. Not only did it create a valuable micro-community of StartupBus alumni, but the tech blogs also showered it with digital praise and Elias knew he had created something worth growing.
One year later, six buses left simultaneously from six different cities -- New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami and, you guessed it, Silicon Valley. Awaiting them in Austin: news reporters and blog posters, round-the-clock parties, sharp-tongued investors, and the alluring mirage of a good night's sleep in the distance. On The Road
The Miami bus fielded seven extraordinary teams
: BookmarksFor.tv, FulFilld.com, Grupii, Isitgood4.me, Online Supply List, Story Set Go, and MyNewman. The judges picked BookmarksFor.tv and MyNewman to make it through the first round and into the semifinals. MyNewman
, the world's first anti-social social network, drew equal parts love and hate from the audience and judges, and made its way into the final round. The genius of MyNewman resides in the compatibility engine it uses to match individuals with other users in their network, or "nemisphere."
Think of the people that you love to hate. You don't necessarily know why they annoy you, but behavioral scientist Sean Lux and software architect Greg Ross-Munro, the creative geniuses behind MyNewman, think they do. And they're banking on the idea that given an opportunity, you will engage with your nemeses (anonymously) online. The business model involves targeted ads to the highly sought after 18-34 year old male demographic, and also a marketplace for the digital prankster – dubbed the crAPP store. Clever, isn't it?
The competition was extraordinary, and at the hands of two winning teams from New York and Silicon Valley, MyNewman was relegated to second fiddle. Fear not! If Internet culture has taught us anything, then the meme-tastic wisdom of Charlie Sheen contends that winning comes in many forms. In fact, MyNewman has been featured in Inc. Magazine
(how cool is that!) and has been approached by investors interested in funding the development of the site.
It's worth noting that the Miami StartupBus had a wily veteran on board. Steve Repetti, CEO of the South Florida technology company and investment fund RadWeb Tech
, served as our bus "conductor." I asked him why he thought StartupBus was important, he said: "StartupBus is an opportunity to showcase the technology, talent and entrepreneurial spirit of the Southeastern United States, especially Florida. It's not all hyper-located in Silicon Valley, it's everywhere." Buspreneurs Unite
The trip turned out to be as much about entrepreneurship education and community building as it was about competition. Every buspreneur is now part of an extraordinary alumni network of approximately 200 individuals with robust skill sets and startup experience in six major U.S. markets.
St. Petersburg buspreneur Reuben Pressman appreciated the dynamism of business building with strangers and time pressure: "It's an incredible opportunity. I learned about the importance of adapting to new scenarios and working with new people fast."
Local web entrepreneur Susie Steiner, CEO at Geek Is Single
and Fido's Laundry
, described the experience as: "The best startup opportunity to roll out of Florida in years" and went on to say, "The StartupBus confirmed a long held belief that people are the most important part of any business. Any idea can be made better with a great team."
So, what's next? Well, the ripple effects of the StartupBus experience are already being felt in the community. Some of the teams on the Miami bus have continued development on their projects, and, two Tampa Bay buspreneur alumni just received a license to host a local Startup Weekend!
It's this kind of passion and drive that Florida's entrepreneurial ecosystem so desperately needs (an early stage investment fund wouldn't hurt, either). All in all, I leave this experience confident in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tampa Bay, and excited to know that the region will be well-represented and competitive in next year's StartupBus challenge. Godspeed.
Special 'thanks' to our fearless leader (and picker-upper of many-a-hotel and dinner bill), Steve Repetti, and also to Brent Britton
for sponsoring participation in the StartupBus.
Tampa Bay region buspreneurs:
Susie Steiner Nathan Schwagler teaches creativity in entrepreneurship at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where he is responsible for the integration of creative thinking skills into entrepreneurship curricula. A graduate of SUNY Buffalo, he earned master's degrees there and at USF. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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