If You Get on This Bus You’re Crazy, They Hope

You'd have to be crazy to get on a bus full of strangers and road trip across the country for three days, creating a startup along the way. But for StartupBus founder Elias Bizannes, crazy is a good thing, and one of the key ingredients to finding promising entrepreneurs to take on this challenge.

The Startup Bus, created in 2010, recruits entrepreneurs to take a trip from different U.S. cities to the annual SxSW Technology Conference in Austin, Texas, with the task of pitching a product or service to investors upon arrival.

Australia-native Bizannes created the StartupBus as a joke—seriously.

While in Sydney in 2010, he planned a road trip with some friends to drive from San Francisco to SxSW, and said the group should launch a startup by the time they got off the bus. In March 2011, a month before the conference, the group created a Website to raise money for a bus, and TechCrunch blogged about the site.

"My inbox exploded," Bizannes, 27, said. "We had 50 people applying [to get on the bus] and $20,000 in sponsorships. I had $500 in my bank account, and the goal was to literally just see what would happen. I was blown away."

During its first year, six functional prototype Web services were created on the trip, and presented to "high-profile" Austin investors—the winning team was even offered funding, Bizannes said. In 2011, 156 new "buspreneuers" were selected, and created 38 different products to pitch at the conference to investors. The concept then spread to Europe, with 20 buspreneurs creating five products in December 2011 on a trip of their own.

To engage people at home, the StartupBus has a new game each year for people to play on the Web that coincides with the startups being created on the trip. This year's game is Busdaq, which allows players to sign in via Facebook to invest in their favorite Startupbus companies while they're on the road.

The community the StartupBus has created is based off the secret to success in Silicon Valley, Bizannes said.

"It's about alumni networks," he said. "People work together, and then 10 years later work together again."

This year's trip is already underway, with 11 teams from U.S. cities and even Mexico set to reach Austin by Friday to pitch their ideas. Their progress is being tracked online on StartupBus.TV which is streaming video from different buses as they travel.

In keeping with the spontaneity of the original bus trip, Bizannes said applications were being accepted up until the buses actually pulled out of each city.

"The people who love the concept, they are very last-minute," he said. "A lot of them are adventurous and have done a lot of traveling and backpacking. The culture style is an extension of my personality."

At press time there were 260 confirmed entrepreneurs taking the trip, averaging about 30 people per bus, or "tribe." More than 800 had applied, up from 300 people the year prior, he said.

The people who apply and take the trip are often looking for a bit of change in their lives, Bizannes said, much like he was when he organized the first trip. Working in finance in Sydney, Bizannes was toying with the idea of starting his own business. After a visit to the U.S. in March 2010, he took the plunge, and was convinced to move to Silicon Valley by angel investor Naval Ravikant.

"It's all about people looking for adventure and meeting other high-quality people," Bizannes said. "They want to change jobs, rethink about what they are doing, and this is another way of working it out."

Visit SmallBusiness.FoxBusiness.com tomorrow to read about four of the Buspreneurs on this year's NYC StartupBus.