Cross Country Hackathon to SXSW

The NextChaptr team.

Imagine combining the shows The Apprentice, SharkTank and The Real World …that’s what I just participated in, though it was called StartupBus!

StartupBus is a hack-a-thon competition that starts on a bus and ends at SxSW. 150 developers, designers, and marketers board wifi-enabled coach buses that take them from select cities (Chicago, New York, Tampa, San Francisco and Mexico City) to Austin, TX. Participants have 3 days to form teams and build a Startup Company before pitching to celebrity tech judges who decide if they are worthy to move on to the finals!

StartupBus route from Chicago to SXSW.

We aren’t just talking pitching a business idea…in 3 days we pitched our own business ideas, self-formed teams, created business strategies, developed functioning websites, recruited customers, promoted our businesses on social media and perfected a pitch for venture capitalists. Sound like a lot? It was, and like any real business there were unexpected twists and turns along the way!

I was on the Chicago bus. My team, NextChaptr, made it to the finals and nabbed 2nd place! We had a solid idea with a clear business strategy, as well as a rock star team with industry knowledge. is a full service publishing company that uses crowd funding to cover production costs. It allows authors to post ideas and readers validate concepts by investing their money. When a book is fully funded, NextChaptr will provide full publishing services (editors, cover design, distribution, marketing) and provide royalties to authors on books sold. Hopefully, it will become a real business!

I’ll briefly recap my experience; it was a whirlwind adventure…

The first 3 days of the competition were spent on the bus traveling 60mph through 8 states! Working on a bus isn’t easy, there isn’t much space, the internet connection isn’t steady and it’s hard to collaborate. We got creative though, windows became white boards and the microphone became a platform to practice your pitch. Much of our work had to wait until we arrived at a hotel, so each night we worked until the wee hours of the morning.

Teams diligently working on the bus.

All 6 buses arrived in San Antonio, TX on day 4 for the elimination rounds that were held at Rackspace. Each of the 35 teams had 7 minutes to pitch to StartupBus judges including StartupBus founder Elias Bizannes. They judges were fierce, interrupting with questions and pointing out holes…my group had come prepared, but we left shaken. There wasn’t much time to get discouraged, we had to keep progressing our business in case we made the semi-finals later in the day.

Less than an hour before the semi-finals began, they announced the 12 teams that would progress to pitch on stage. We were in! Our time spent rehearsing and creating a deck had paid off. We pitched to esteemed Rackspace employees and got positive feedback. The judges who had experienced publishing books on their own immediately saw our business value and became our advocates. Robert Scoble, one of the judges, even committed to using our product once live!

NextChaptr at semi finals!

We made the top 6, which meant we were pitching again the next morning for a chance to progress to the finals. They provided us a few minutes of mentorship with a professional speaking coach, and then we were back on stage. This time, we made the top 2! No time to celebrate though, we had to board a bus to Austin, TX.

On the final day, my team set up headquarters in my hotel room and worked most of the day. We wanted to get as much functionality in place as possible. The finals were held at the Rackspace sponsored bar in the heart of downtown. It was crowded, loud, and the sound system wasn’t working and started more than 2 hours late…let’s just say not ideal conditions for presenting. Despite the situation, our pitch guy had his best performance yet! One of the venture capitalists said, “that didn’t completely suck,” which we took as quite the compliment! We took second place and we were proud!

It was an exciting, fun, geeky and exhausting week filled with inspiring amounts of passion and creativity. I was blown away by the people I met and ideas generated by other teams: (the winner),,,, and (the first spinoff).

For those ready to apply next year, here are a few tips:

????????? Create a splash page the first day and collect email addresses immediately

????????? Pick a team with an idea that can be scaled to be functional in 3 days

????????? Recruit customers at every stop along the way

????????? Bring back-up power and your own internet connection

????????? Sleep on the bus during the day, work at the hotel during the night

????????? Make sure your pitch tells a problem and your solution in the first 30 seconds

Good luck!

Read an article about NextChaptr on Built in Chicago!


?????????????????????????????????? The Midwest Bus explains the concept of StartupBus.