The finalists in the ongoing Startup Bus competition are: TripMedi, an information and recommendation site for medical tourism (New York), MyNewman, the “anti-social network,” (Miami); Mom and Pop Coops, group buying that helps small businesses achieve economies of scale (Cleveland); Shotput, an SMS-based newsletter service (Chicago); WalkIN, a system for real-time reservations (Silicon Valley); and Bouncr, which generates anonymous short links for email addresses (San Francisco).
Startup Bus organizers chose two companies from each bus to pitch in front of a panel of investors to decide who would advance to the finals. Buspreneurs and investors packed into the pop-up Dogpatch Labs, a workroom upstairs at the Treehouse pub in downtown Austin.
Three extra companies pitched under the “wildcard” category, including the eleemosenary (read: not money-making) Kajoo, an open source civic engagement platform that’s already in use by the city of Madison, WI and is in talks with Rio, Brazil, which launched on the New York Startup Bus. Kajoo was beaten by FlyByMiles, which helps people organize and use their frequent flier miles, but the New York-based Kajoo team plans to keep developing the product.
New York contenders TripMedi went head-to-head with the seven-person The Lemonade Stand, a platform that lets individuals easily post items for sale and see what others are selling around them. The Lemonade Stand has grabbed a lot of hype since the beginning, when they came into the competition with 250 email addresses harvested through a nondescript splash page for “StartupX” generated using hypemachine LaunchRock.com, and were subsequently interviewed by TechCrunch and CNN; they also distributed t-shirts, stickers, Snickers bars and lemonade on a lawn outside the Austin Convention Center.
The finalists will pitch in front of a panel of seven or eight investors and an audience of a few hundred people on Monday at the SXSW Accelerator party. Several companies on the buses have been offered investment already and various investors are interested in companies (and individual entrepreneurs) even if they didn’t make the cuts. There were four investors in the main room at Dogpatch Labs in addition to the five judges; more were in the overflow room watching the pitches on Ustream.
All three New York companies–Kajoo, The Lemonade Stand and TripMedi–had solid to slick pitches and judges had praise for all three, which was especially heartening after the investor assessment of the pitches from the Miami bus: “We weren’t exactly blown away by either one. They both have a hard slog,” Philip Fierlinger of Startup Bus sponsor Xero said.
“I really think New York had the best bus, and that’s not a bias,” New York investor Peter Flint of Polaris, said after the event. Then he amended, “New York and San Francisco.”
Investors were looking for entrepreneurs who had actual products vs. “slideware,” the quality of talent on the team, how well they pitched and how well they interacted with each other, he said.
The Startup Bus competition has generated a lot of interest at SXSW. Buspreneurs wandering around in the baby-blue Startup Bus t-shirt are getting random questions, praise and high fives. (The Observer heard a rumor that someone had gotten a Startup Bus tattoo. True? Let us know.) Between the competition and the stock market game on the Startup Bus website, the event resembles a reality TV show.
“It’s not really like a hackathon. It’s more like a production, a live media production,” Startup Bus founder Elias Bizannes said.
The New York bus sent three companies to the semi-finals; San Francisco and Silicon Valley sent four. The competition will be tough for New York’s TripMedi–especially from San Francisco-based Bouncr, which already has the triple threat of hype (they’re having a party tonight), technology (they’ve already shortened more than 500 email addresses) and revenue, generated through an ad partnership with Xero.