Birmingham’s Innovation Depot served as a crossroads of sorts Monday for teams of entrepreneurs out to form a winning startup company during a bus-based hackathon.
StartupBus teams from New Orleans and St. Louis ended the first leg of their three-day trip Monday night in the Innovation Depot’s Velocity Accelerator, where they were treated to beer and pizza and some helpful advice from the companies there.
“What we do is we take folks from all over the United States and Mexico, put them on buses and we stop at innovative cities along the way to get mentorship and ideas on how to craft businesses,” said Will Yaworsky, North American director of StartupBus. “Once we finally get to our final destination, we have a two-day-long “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition to determine who started the best company over that three-day road trip.”
Sometimes, the companies created in the process go on to become actual, viable companies. But Yaworksy said that’s not the real point.
“I like to say that it’s really about the community. It’s about the people you meet along the way,” he said. “My network has grown from just a small amount of people in Cleveland to being absolutely worldwide.”
StartupBus began in 2010 in a bus ride from San Francisco to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The entrepreneurialism on asphalt has since to grow from North America to Europe, South Africa and Australia.
The current competition has buses from San Francisco, New York, Tampa, New Orleans, St. Louis and Mexico City.
Max Gaudin and Alyson Kilday are two seasoned entrepreneurs in New Orleans who served as conductors on the New Orleans bus.
Gaudin said the “buspreneurs” on his bus pitched about 20 ideas before teams started forming around the most popular ones. They now have to work quickly to be ready when the buses stop rolling.
“They should have a working prototype or minimum viable product by the third day, and there is a pitch competition back in New Orleans on Thursday and Friday,” Gaudin said.
Kilday said it’s impressive to see the process take place on the StartupBus.
“There is only so much you can do in three days, but the main thing is to learn how to work together under stressful environments, solve problems and then hopefully create something that’s a viable product,” she said.
Chris Aliotta, co-founder of Quantalytix, one of Velocity Accelerator’s inaugural class members, was among those at Innovation Depot to help the teams flesh out their ideas.
“I think it’s important that we have these events to raise awareness among the different startup communities in the Southeast, especially nationally,” Aliotta said. “In today’s day and age, you don’t need to be in San Francisco or New York City to do startup work. Remote technology has enabled us to do so much more. It’s great to be able to stay regional and meet other people who are regional to swap stories and share ideas.”
Yaworsky said StartupBus has opened his eyes to the importance of entrepreneurial communities communicating with one another.
“It’s really important to have a varied set of mentorship and advice when you’re trying to start something as difficult as a company,” he said.
Innovation Depot hasn’t been on the StartupBus itinerary since 2014 and many were surprised to see how much is happening among Birmingham’s innovation ecosystem.
“We absolutely love stopping in places and giving them the opportunity to highlight the awesome things that they do,” Yaworsky said.