Innovation Rolls Through Atlanta on the StartupBus

Innovation Rolls Through Atlanta on the StartupBus

By Andrea Kjaer

There’s a space race happening in the United States—but it doesn’t involve NASA.

Meet the StartupBus. This organization has spread to Europe, Africa, and the far reaches of Australia. It’s a global movement aimed not at the stars or outer space, but at the creation of tech startups.

Every year, software developers, business experts, makers, engineers and designers board busses all over the world and engage in a 72 hour race. The journey takes them from makerspace to makerspace in cities along the route to their final destination, where their entries will be judged.

On August 1, the Ohio Startup Bus pulled into Atlanta’s very own Decatur Makers. Makerspaces are the ideal pit stops for these builders because they have a vast amount of resources like 3D printers, carpentry tools, sewing machines, welding gear, electronics and raw materials that can be used to make prototypes.

A 3D printer in the San Jose Public Library (via Flickr user San Jose Public Library)

A 3D printer in the San Jose Public Library (via Flickr user San Jose Public Library)

The Process

When the bus arrived, many of the young entrepreneurs went to work right away, some laboring through the night, fueled by a combination of coffee and their desire to see their projects take flight.

The goal of the StartupBus isn’t simply to have a viable product or app at the end of the 72 hours, but a business that’s ready to go. The process includes market research, planning a strategic entry and presenting a good UX/UI to the judges.

Tired Crewbie members continue to code around the clock to finish before they reach New Orleans.

Tired Crewbie members continue to code around the clock to finish before they reach New Orleans.

In the first hours of the competition, each person had the opportunity to pitch an idea, and groups organically gravitated around the ones that most appealed to them. Soon, the groups began iterating and developing their prototypes, each participant taking on the roles they were best suited for and taking on new ones as the need arose.

Some of the products and businesses created during past StartupBus endeavors have endured beyond the competition, finding success in the real world, and the products and apps created by the Ohio Startup Bus 2017 stand a great chance of doing the same.

The Projects

Team Titan created a product that takes four previously existing technologies and combines them into one. Their lantern-sized modular microgenerator can collect kinetic, solar, water or wind power, depending on which part is attached.  

Team Titan's microgenerator prototype set amongst the creative chaos of the Decatur Makers space

Team Titan’s microgenerator prototype set amongst the creative chaos of the Decatur Makers space

Crewbie is an app designed to eliminate the classic Jungle Book scenario of, “What do you want to do, friend?” “I don’t know, what you want to do?” When a group of friends wants to go out to dinner, it’s hard to find a place that accommodates diverse food preferences, has the right atmosphere, and provides the experience everyone is looking for. Crewbie is like Yelp, but springboarded to the next level.

The designers want to make Crewbie free to front-end users, and they’ve devised an ingenious way to do so. The app will collect information about user preferences and sell it to restaurants so the merchants can learn why potential visitors chose someplace else. Then, those restaurants will ideally upgrade their experience to become more of what people are looking for, which means better eating and entertainment experiences for all.

Other StartupBus riders are working on a device called Sea Searcher, which aims to help rescue divers find people who are drowning. The hardware can be dragged behind a boat, using both sonar and cameras.

Several days into the StartupBus trip, one team found out that their product was identical to one already on the market and had to go back to the drawing board. Despite an even shorter timeframe, the team persevered, intently brainstorming new ideas that could fit within their new constraints.

The Payoff

Impressively, no participants seemed concerned with losing. Participation in the StartupBus is its own reward. Many people from years past join the bus as mentors because they love to see this process in action, and most even described it as life-changing.

Chris Latko found the StartupBus so impactful he got a tattoo to commemorate the experience.

Chris Latko found the StartupBus so impactful he got a tattoo to commemorate the experience.

“When you are a part of a startup of any kind, you are forced to work on parts of the business that are the most crucial,” said Jay Alchy of the Crewbie team. “Everyone has to deliver, so you grow so much. That’s why I would tell anyone to try this.”

Chris Latko, a StartupBus mentor and former participant describes the experience as a pressure cooker. “Everything you’d experience in the startup life, you’ll get here in four days. If you survive that, you can survive a real world startup,” Latko said. “You can experience this early in your career and learn more about who you are and what you want—how to get out of the daily grind, punch your own ticket, and be the boss of your own life.”

Kyle McKee of Akron, Ohio also found himself returning to the StartupBus a mentor. “It’s about the people and the experience,” he said. “It’s about the community that we’ve built of amazing people who have all gone through this wild experience.”

And once it’s all over, they get to hang out together for the weekend in New Orleans. How is that for the perfect brainstorming session?

If you think you might have what it takes to join, fill out an application for a future trip or read more at the StartupBus Blog.

Lead image via Flickr user Julia Buchner.

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