“You know what yous should do?” Nick said to me one Thursday night. “You should volunteer to be press on the Nashville StartupBus.”
2 days later I found myself up at 6:30 AM (for crying out loud!) and heading to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center to catch the bus. This bus, to be exact:
Still, riding the Nashville bus was awesome. I met some great people, learned a lot on the mentoring team, and got to see some pretty cool companies built. But none of that prepared me for the amazing experience the 2 days at Rackspace headquarters would be.
This is the second year Rackspace has hosted the competition at the end of the StartupBus ride. If you haven’t heard, Rackspace bought an old mall and turned it into office space. It’s pretty awesome.
The teams started preliminary pitches around 9 AM, even though many of the buses got in at 1 or later. Preliminary pitches were done in front of panel of StartupBus judges, while in another room teams prepped for their turn. Lots of pacing, lots of coffee, and lots of people randomly talking to themselves under their breath. Basically, it was startup heaven.
Sixteen teams went on to semifinals, and from there 8 more teams were chosen for the finals (Including Nashville’s On the List). Finals judges included Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble, among others, and they didn’t hold back in their criticisms and advice for the teams. Ultimately Mexico’s SmartHost came out on top.
The competition was fun, but the real story of StartupBus happened after the fact when several people migrated to SXSW. As the weekend wore on, the folks from various buses found themselves together again and again. The annual GroupMe chat had repeatedly have the limit raised because more and more people wanted to be involved.
“It’s like everywhere we go, it’s half StartupBus people,” Roxanne Spielvogel told me. “We just can’t get enough of hanging out!”
That kind of community is no accident or serendipity. The team at StartupBus see it as their number one goal, beyond the competition and the companies built on the buses.
StartupBus National Director Jon Gottfried put it to me this way:
Our community is actually the primary focus of StartupBus. In many ways, the competition is just the induction into that community. So the strength of our group at SxSW is truly our goal – and it has nothing to do with the conference. Those bonds and that support network are permanent. We frequently see Buspreneurs working together, founding companies together, and becoming great friends long after the competition ends. For me, the StartupBus community has had an immense impact on both my personal and professional life in New York tech.
PS–I would be remiss if I didn’t say thanks to the amazing sponsors both of StartupBus national and of the Nashville bus. Rackspace was a great host, and companies like Elance, SendGrid, and Twilio made the whole thing a great time. For the Nashville bus, thanks to the Crunchfire team for riding along and being great mentors. JumpStart Foundry and LaunchTN were also huge sponsors that provided so much for the trip.