Mobile Startup Village Full of ‘Buspreneurs’ Rolls Through Memphis

By James Dowd The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn. Photo credit:Yalonda M. James

Take a couple dozen entrepreneurs and investors, pack them together on a cross-country bus trip for three days and what do you get?

The next big startup, if all goes according to plan.

But if not that, then at least an experience worth tweeting about and lots of connections to file away for future use.

Such is the model for the StartupBus, a prospect launched in 2010 that made its first foray through Tennessee this year.

The mobile entrepreneurial village, which began its journey in Nashville, traveled to Memphis to spend time at Start Co. on Monday.

On board were 19 creatives fronting five teams, all working against the clock to come up with scalable ideas for sustainable companies.

Along for the ride, which wraps up in San Antonio later in the week, were angel investors and mentors to support the entrepreneurs who just may develop the next Facebook or Google or Instagram.

For one lucky team, the San Antonio competition will result in funding from more than a dozen sponsors to help launch the company.

For the rest -- scores of entrepreneurs on seven buses from across the U.S. and Mexico -- the experience and exposure will be invaluable.

And for Memphis and Tennessee, that exposure will likely be significant.

"We're decided to have a bus from Tennessee because we want to support a regional startup network," said Steve Repetti, co-founder of the Florida-based investment company Crunch Fire that opened a Nashville office last year.

"We love what's happening in Memphis and we knew we had to stop here on our way to San Antonio. The caliber of startup programs here is impressive and unlike anything I've seen anywhere else."

The state's StartupBus was also sponsored by Launch Tennessee and Jumpstart Foundry and filled with mostly Nashville entrepreneurs, coders and designers.

A few participants were from outside the region, including creatives from Australia, Boston and Dallas.

And while there were no Memphis riders on board, the fact that the bus scheduled a layover in Memphis spoke volumes, said Start Co. president and co-founder Andre Fowlkes.

"Hosting this level of talent helps us develop stronger relationships with entrepreneurial communities across the state," Fowlkes said. "It's all about building up our regional network and promoting entrepreneurial resources across Tennessee."

The StartupBus team spent Monday morning at Start Co., practicing pitches and refining business models before leaving for Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge; and Houston en route to San Antonio for the competition.

Similar StartupBus programs are now held in Europe and Africa and sponsors include the Kauffman Foundation, Rackspace, Spotify and Yahoo.

"It's exciting to see Memphis and Tennessee build reputations as emerging regions for entrepreneurship," said Eric Mathews, CEO and co-founder of Start Co. "There's a lot of activity going on here and the world is starting to take notice."

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