The Florida StartupBus -- packed with 30 entrepreneurial-minded people who may be strangers to each other -- is set to roll out of downtown Tampa at 8 a.m. Friday, April 27. The bus embarks on a 72-hour journey of more than 650 miles to New Orleans, stopping at Atlanta, Nashville, and cultural and entrepreneurial hotspots.
Along the way, participants can create a product and business, take risks without consequences, and connect with mentors and collaborators who can help make their venture a success.
For some, it may be a life changer. “StartupBus is about experiencing, essentially, the first year of a startup,” explains Robert Blacklidge, the Lead Conductor. “We compress it into a short amount of time.”
Ultimately, the StartupBus is not about churning out a bunch of businesses, however. “Our goal is not to create companies,” he says. “It’s to give people the experience of creating a company in a short amount of time.”
The route the bus will take wasn’t disclosed.
“When you’re starting an entrepreneurial experience, you don’t know what the road is ahead of you,” Blacklidge says. “We like to keep the experience that way too.”
About a third of this year’s participants are veterans, like Blacklidge, who served in the U.S. Air Force. He describes the StartupBus as a boot camp that puts together hackers, or the creators, with hipsters, the designers, and hustlers, the marketers.
They’re in for a grueling experience: 15- to 18-hour workdays where they rely on Red Bull and coffee to function. “It’s not a cakewalk,” he points out.
In the end, it’s about opportunity rather than “creature comforts,” or “habit,” he says.
“We’re showing them a mountain that they don’t have a choice but to climb,” he explains. “All the time, people will rise to the challenge.”
Bus riders with be in the Big Easy on Monday, April 30, and Tuesday, May 1, along with the big Collision tech conference April 30-May 3.
Some 30 teams from eight buses, including a bus from New York City with women interested in block chain, the technology used to build crytocurrency, will be presenting their businesses before industry leaders.
“The prize is the experience, the people you meet and the bragging rights,” Blacklidge says.
This trip’s sponsors include Veterans Florida, Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative EDi2, and the technology consulting and software development firm, Sourcetoad.
Nine years ago, the first StartupBus wasn’t planned. Some entreprenuers were headed across the country to a conference, when they decided to challenge themselves to create a company along the way. Since then the idea has been growing, turning into an international challenge that spurs inventiveness and creativity.
“You would be amazed what gets created in a short amount of time,” Blacklidge says. “It’s truly an incredible experience.”
In 2017, two Florida teams were among the five finalists: Course Align and DropIn Pedals.
Blacklidge came up with the idea for his company, Course Align, while on the bus. The company, designed to help universities develop curriculum that meets evolving business needs, is in the seed-funding stage with 14 employees, most of them unpaid interns.
Conductors Morgan Thacker and Tyler Baumgardner, a 2017 team out of Dunedin, placed second with DropIn Pedals, an adapter transforming clipless bike pedals into flat pedals that can be used with casual shoes.
A limited number of seats are available on the bus for latecomers this year. “Every year we get one or two people that just found out about it,” Blacklidge says.
Potential participants can sign up at http://Startupbus.com/florida using the invite code 83Degrees.
“They will need to fill out the application and schedule an interview when they sign up,” Blacklidge says. “The time line will be tight to get them through the process and on the bus.”
Participants need to pay for a $399 ticket, plus food, hotels and airfare.