Stanford fields first all-college StartupBus team

March 14, 2012, 2:44 a.m.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Dan Tran ’06 as a member of the Gourmair team. Tran did not work with Gourmair. The Daily regrets the error.


A group of aspiring entrepreneurs represented Stanford this past week in the third annual StartupBus competition. Working in two teams, the students had 74 hours to brainstorm, develop and launch a start-up while traveling by bus from Stanford to Austin, Texas, before presenting their concepts to a professional panel at the SXSW Interactive Conference.


“The basic premise is to see how people stretch and push themselves with constrained resources,” said Chase Harmon ’13, CEO of E2.0, a student entrepreneurship group. “So what is done in three years in some cases will be done in three days.”


One hundred teams from across the United States and Mexico participated in the competition, pioneering ideas in constrained settings and under severe time pressure. The teams from Stanford – organized by E2.0 and sponsored by Microsoft – were the first entirely collegiate teams to enter the competition, with both able to secure corporate deals by the end of the weekend.


“We’re all about entrepreneurship and getting the juices flowing mentally and creatively, so we thought that this would be a great outlet for us,” said Viraj Bindra ’15, E2.0’s director of marketing. “Twitter and Foursquare launched there [at SXSW], so it’s a great basis for amazing ideas to take shape and gain traction.”


E2.0 was only accepted into the competition five days before the departure date. David Hornick – partner at August Capital and a member of the E2.0 board of advisors –helped put Harmon in touch with executives at Microsoft to secure a last-minute sponsorship.


“Basically we called up Microsoft at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, and they really pulled in last minute, so we need to thank them for making all this possible,” Harmon said.


E2.0 then worked quickly to distribute applications across the Stanford campus and to locate a bus with the amenities necessary for the competition, such as Wi-Fi. Harmon said E2.0 searched for a group of students representing a “nice, diverse spread between hustlers, designers and coders.”


Leaving Stanford at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6, the group pitched ideas and formed teams in Palm Springs before working on their start-ups throughout the remainder of the journey. Before arriving in Austin late Friday afternoon, the teams faced challenges including delays posed by a dust storm and unreliable Internet access.


“In a three-day span, my team and I worked for 60 hours. By the end of it, all of us were a little delirious and saying the most ridiculous things,” said Herry Lian ’12, one of the “buspreneurs.” “The most rewarding part of that is when a venture capitalist praises you for a good pitch, which made pushing ourselves that hard worth it.”


Jesse Clayburgh ’13, Jesus Salas ’12 and Song Zheng, a UCLA alumnus who works for Tokbox, collaborated to form TxtRoo, a review system service for people without smartphone access. Noting that users of simple phones – which often lack Internet access – outnumber smartphone users five to one, the team decided to pioneer a service allowing users to receive and write reviews through standard text messaging services.


Lian and George Burgess ’15, co-COO of E2.0, pioneered Gourmair, a site that consolidates top online food-delivery services. Acknowledging that consumers face many such services to choose between, the team aimed to make ordering food online more convenient and reliable.


The teams used – an online employment platform and one of the team’s sponsors – to hire engineering help to construct wireframes, landing pages and computer servers.


“They provided us with several contractors to help us accomplish our goals,” Clayburgh said. “On the StartupBus, things that would usually take two weeks to do took two hours or sometimes even two minutes.”


On Saturday, the teams presented their star-tups to a panel including technology journalists, venture capitalists and start-up accelerator representatives. Both teams advanced to the semifinals.


“Most people are professionals, so it is definitely an honor for us to be here, and it was a relief for us to be passed to the next round,” Harmon said.


Both of the Stanford start-ups began to attract corporate customers interested in using their technologies early in the competition. TxtRoo succeeded in creating a prototype and securing deals with a large number of restaurants, while Gourmair – which signed deals with food suppliers from around the country – was one of six teams that advanced to the final round.


On Sunday evening, the E2.0 contingent began its trip back to campus, satisfied with a successful first StartupBus run. Many of the participants emphasized their interest in continuing to develop their start-ups after the competition.


“All in all, I think most everyone had a great time, and we built really strong relationships,” Clayburgh said. “You get to know someone very, very well after spending that kind of time together in such an intense environment. No doubt, this has been one of the coolest things I’ve done.”

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