Fifteen strangers are about to board a bus in Tampa and, over the course of the next several days, create new businesses.
They’ll be part of StartupBus Florida, an annual competition that is equal parts boot camp and road trip and designed to empower the tech community by challenging top-tier talent to conceive, build and launch a startup in 72 hours.
It’s the 10th year for StartUp Bus nationally. There’s been a StartupBus from the Tampa Bay area every year since 2011.
This year’s StartupBus Florida will leave from Tampa early Wednesday morning, forming teams and developing business plans before they arrive in New Orleans 72 hours later. They’ll be joined there by StartUpBusses from six other regions — Mexico, Silicon Valley, New York, Northeast Ohio and Washington, D.C. — as well as a StartUp Bus for black entrepreneurs. In New Orleans, they’ll pitch their fledgling businesses to several panels of judges, with opportunities to talk to other founders and alumni.
Grocery delivery service InstaCart is among the best known of the companies founded during prior StartupBus competitions. Florida teams have frequently made the finals in the pitch competitions. Last year, dadSAK, a patent pending baby carrier/diaper bag/backpack, was a runner-up in the competition. There were two finalists from Florida in 2017,– Dropin Pedals, an adapter for bicycle pedals, and Course Align, a data tool for universities.
During the three-day bus ride, there are stops along the way to meet with mentors and coaches and to check in at some coworking spaces, said Akira Mitchell, co-conductor for the 2019 StartupBus Florida. Mitchell and co-conductor Nick Price are the lead organizers and mentors this year, and also “buspreneurs” who previously rode together on the 2014 bus, and took part in the entrepreneurship program at University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
The 15 riders on StartupBus Florida this year include 10 people from the Tampa Bay area and five from other parts of the state. Two are repeat riders, and the other 13 are new to the bus, Mitchell said.
Participants fall into three categories — hackers, hipsters and hustlers, Mitchell said.
Hackers, or developers, have the technical skills to know how to build the product. That can be back-end development, front-end development, hardware prototyping, game development and similar skills.
Hipsters are designers who can create intuitive products that look awesome and also understand the needs of the users.
Hustlers are influencers who can convince and persuade a target audience to use the product. They can be growth hackers, project managers, marketing experts or sales executives.
“When you get them on a bus in a confined space, the ideas and processes are really magical,” Mitchell said.
She also said she’s built a network of friends both locally and nationally through her involvement with StartupBus.
The full cost of participation would be about $1,500, but sponsorships help reduce that cost. Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative, or EDI2, is paying for the bus. SourceToad, a technology consulting and software development firm in Tampa, will pick up the cost of two hotel nights. Tampa law firm de la Peña & Holiday LLP is paying for supplies that will be used on the bus.
That took the cost down to about $600, including the flight home from New Orleans, Mitchell said.
There will be a launch party tonight for StartupBus Florida participants, with the bus rolling out Tampa at 7 a.m. Wednesday.