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What Happens When You Jam A Bunch of Entrepreneurs On A Bus?

StartupBus puts a lot of smart people in a very small space, going very fast down a highway, and asks them to come up with new companies.

What Happens When You Jam A Bunch of Entrepreneurs On A Bus?
Spark via Shutterstock

Of the thousands of entrepreneurs who descend upon Austin this March for the annual South by Southwest Interactive conference, the vast majority will have spent months, even years, developing the concept, technology, and branding behind their new startup.

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But the small handful who arrive on the StartupBus will have done all that legwork in just the 72 hours it took them to drive to Austin.

The StartupBus is the world’s most frenetic startup incubator–not to mention, its most reality-TV-ready one– hurdling along the freeway with a group of 30 or so ambitious entrepreneurs who have just met. “As soon as everybody has their seat warmed up, the pitching begins,” explains Mitch Neff, StartupBus’s director of media. Five to seven teams will form around the best ideas for new businesses, and every waking moment of the next 72 hours will be dedicated to launching.

Passengers are a mix of coders, design and branding types, and sales people–or in StartupBus’s terms “hackers, hipsters, and hustlers.” (According to Neff, “We kind of just chose ‘hipster’ because it begins with an ‘h’ like the other two.”) “Startup boot camp is really what it is,” Neff says, admitting that the experience is more about building community than an actual company (which is to say, you probably haven’t heard of any of the companies launched on the StartupBus–yet).

“It gives you three days to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are.” And it compresses into three days the “chaos and struggles that a startup might face over its first three or four months of existence,” he adds. That “chaos” is exacerbated by the fact that participants barely know each other and are stuck on a bus all day. “The bathroom on those buses is definitely something to be feared,” Neff says.

But despite the somewhat harrowing conditions, something important must happen, because people keep signing up. “Some of us will fly back to the United States for our second year in a row in search of amazing colleagues, opportunities, and, hopefully, co-founders,” Finland-based StartupBus alum Fernando Leon told me, via email.

The event is now in its fourth year, with plans to send buses from New York, Tampa, Chicago, Mexico City, in addition to the Valley. In Europe, a separate competition included buses with German, French, Spanish, and U.K. crews.

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“Year after year, bus after bus, we’ve been absolutely amazed by what people can actually accomplish in 72 hours,” Neff says. “What’s more amazing is the amount of people that have gone on to do other things together.”

The invite-only application for this March just kicked off. More details here.

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About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, NYMag.com, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere. Visit his personal website here.

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