Startup Bus’ 72-hour binge ride makes pit stop in Little Rock

by Wesley Brown ( 124 views 

An image from Startup Bus.

More than 30 strangers on a 72-hour bus ride binge made a pit stop in Little Rock as part of an international competition to come up with the best ideas for a new startup company.

Participants in the 2017 edition of Startup Bus competition began a three-day odyssey on Monday (July 31) that ends in New Orleans for a grand finale pitch competition later in the week, where 200 entrepreneurs on more than 25 teams are expected to compete for potential early stage funding.

For this year’s competition, seven buses on Sunday left “tech hubs” in New York City, San Francisco, Tampa, Fla., Akron, Ohio, St. Louis, New Orleans and Mexico City. All buses are expected to arrive in New Orleans on Thursday, Aug. 2.

The New Orleans bus, organized by New Orleans-based entrepreneurs and Startup Bus alumni Alyson Kilday and Max Gaudin, arrived at the Little Rock Technology Park on Tuesday, where several teams pitched their business ideas to the city’s startup community and mingled with tenants at the city’s newly-renovated tech village.

Tech Park tenant Mike Steely, founder of local startup Sparkible and host for the Startup Bus participants, said the experience has been great for local entrepreneurs and startups and the five teams that arrived at the city’s Tech Park last night.

“It’s really a lot like a startup weekend, but it’s on a ‘freaking bus,’” explained the local serial entrepreneur. “If I were doing it …, I would be exhausted. But also, I think it would be a lot easier to get distracted because they’ve stopped in [five cities] in route to New Orleans. That’s a lot of stops in 72 hours to distract you from what you are trying to build.”

The New Orleans’ Startup bus left Louisiana’s largest city Monday morning with destinations at technology hubs in Pensacola, Fla., Birmingham, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Little Rock and Jackson, Miss., before returning to New Orleans on Thursday.

“On Monday morning, 30 strangers met and they have three days to form teams and launch viable companies,” said a weary-eyed Kilday. “We are on day three so most teams have almost a product and a verifiable business plan. They are going to pitching this as if were live for real clients on Thursday.”

Today, after a breakfast and networking session with Little Rock Tech Park tenants and community leaders, the Startup Bus teams held a strategy session with local marketing firm and Tech Park tenant Cobbler Media, and then made a visit to the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. The visit to Central Arkansas ended with a tour and lunch at the downtown headquarters of Apptegy, the city’s fast-growing startup that recently announced plans to add 20 new technology jobs to its 55-person workforce.

After the New Orleans team left Little Rock on Wednesday afternoon, one other stop is planned for Jackson, Miss. The semi-finals for the international pitch competition will begin Thursday for a two-day competition at Landing Zone in the Lower Garden District where venture capital pitch coaches will be on hand to assist teams. The finals will be hosted Friday by the New Orleans Jazz Market.

Kilday and Gaudin were participants five years ago in the inaugural Startup Bus event, which made its debut in Louisiana in 2012. Gaudin said he has since utilized the experience as COO at Operation Spark, a coding boot camp in New Orleans that rapidly trains people for careers in technology related fields.

“With Startup Bus, what seemed like a novelty at first quickly became a deep dive into the startup world. I gleaned a significant amount of start-up know-how while making several lifelong business connections,” said the New Orleans native.