AUSTIN, Texas--After three days jammed into buses headed here from cities across the country and four days perfecting their pitches, the winners of the second-annual Startup Bus competition claimed victory tonight.
If you haven't been following the happenings of the Startup Bus, 38 teams of so-called "buspreneurs" departed on six buses from San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, and New York last Tuesday, headed for the South by Southwest conference (SXSW) here. Each team, formed mainly from strangers aboard their bus, faced this challenge: conceive of an idea, and take the time from departure to arrival in Austin to build a prototype, create a Web site for it, and get ready to pitch it to an august team of judges.
And tonight, the seven finalists--one from each bus, plus a seventh chosen by public voting from one of the two buses that started in San Francisco, faced off for the title.
In the end, Startup Bus founder Elias Bizannes announced that the judges deadlocked and decided on two winners. "No surprise," Bizannes told a packed salon at the Downtown Hilton here, across the street from the SXSW home, the Austin Convention Center, "the two winning teams come from the technology hubs of New York and Silicon Valley."
Specifically, the winnings teams were the entry from the New York bus, known as TripMedi, and one of two Silicon Valley teams that departed from San Francisco, WalkIn. Both teams won a private dinner with members of the seed and early-stage investment firm Polaris Ventures.
Unlike many of the Startup Bus teams that built some sort of social application, TripMedi (see video below) focused on a larger problem--the inefficiencies built into what they said is the $20 billion medical tourism market. If you're not familiar with medical tourism, it's when someone wanting to save a lot of money on an otherwise expensive procedure travels to a developing nation to get it done. According to TripMedi's data, 3 million people around the world traveled for some sort of medical help last year, and the market is growing at a rate of at least 15 percent a year.
But there's no easy way to navigate the system for helping those who take part in medical tourism, TripMedi argued. Rather, what systems do exist are confusing, scary, or outright weird. By comparison, its approach is much simpler and easier, the team said, and potentially quite profitable.
Trip Medi plans to highlight where patients can get the help they need, benchmark the price of any procedures against what it would cost in the United States, showcase the physicians who can perform the work, and potentially create a hub for recommendations so that patients can see whether others have been satisfied with a particular doctor's efforts.
The team argued that it can make money with its idea in several ways. First, through referral fees of 10 percent to 20 percent; second, through commissions on flight or hotel bookings; and finally on service fees of up to 5 percent.
So far, the idea seems to be gaining traction. In just the four days since arriving in Austin, TripMedi's Web site has gotten 1,300 unique visitors from 44 countries and 44 sign-ups.
"It's not sexy," said Roland Dillon, who presented for TripMedi, "but it's a multi-billion dollar industry." The team's other members are Cemre Gungor, Igor Dolgalev, Igor Lebovic, Mike Caprio, Ravi Kotecha, and Steve Schlafman.
After hearing the presentations, the team of six judges--Dave McClure of 500 Hats, Naval Ravikant of Angel List, Tom Ball of Austin Ventures, Philip Fierlinger of Startup Bus sponsor Xero, Greg Veen of TypeKit, and Stephen Anderson of Baseline Ventures--had a lot of praise for the team, even if Fierlinger cautioned them that they had to change the name of the service. But Fierlinger said he thought the project was "ambitious and really cool" and was clearly going after a "gaping hole" in the medical tourism market. Veen lauded the team for "doing something that could actually save people's lives," and Anderson said he had been quickly "hooked" by the team's pitch.
As well, McClure praised TripMedi's presentation, in particular its use of clear, succinct charts showing the problem it was trying to solve. Other teams had not done quite as well in that regard. "It was just awesome," McClure said. "You guys f-----g rocked it."
The other winner was WalkIn (see video below), which attacked a problem perhaps more prevalent, if not quite as socially significant. The team, which was on the Silicon Valley bus, went after the pain point of showing up at a restaurant and having to stand around until your name is called from the waiting list.
Instead, WalkIn designed a system that would allow someone to check in at a restaurant--by giving the host their phone number and agreeing to receive a text message alert, or by scanning a QR code at the host's desk--and then take off for a stroll. When their name is about to be called, they'd receive an alert to return to the restaurant. The team designed the service to run on HTML5, meaning no app beyond a QR code reader is necessary. However, the team built native apps for Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms. "Scan, relax, you're in" is the WalkIn tagline.
WalkIn--which is comprised of brothers Keith and Ken Hanson, Jared Hanson (no relation), Alexander King, Bhavin Shah, James Williams, Jesse Ditson, Josh Best, and Keith Axline--thinks it can make money with its idea by offering restaurants, and other customers, different sets of upgrades and features, as well as through a system of coupons and lead generation.
On the restaurant side, hosts would have an iPad application that would show everyone on the waiting list, and their place on that list. The idea would be to make the system as easy as possible to use for restaurants. And while waiting, diners could be sent enticements for drinks or high-margin menu items which could add to the restaurants' profits.
Again, as evidenced by their choice of WalkIn, the judges were full of enthusiasm for the project. Ravicant praised the team for how much it achieved during the bus ride and said the name was "inspirational." Ball said he liked the idea but urged the team to make sure there are ways built in to the service that allowed the restaurants to make money.
The other five finalists included:
FlyByMiles, which developed a streamlined system that allows users to search for flights they can book with existing air miles.
Bouncr, which created a "bit.ly for email," and which says it can "shorten, share, and protect" your e-mail address.
Mom & Pop Cooperatives, which built a system designed to help local businesses aggregate their purchasing in order to take advantage of bulk discount pricing.
ShotPut, an elective SMS newsletter service.
MyNewman, a social network centered on pranks, aimed at 18- to 34-year-old males.