When entrepreneurs all over Europe begin speeding toward Paris for the high-profile LeWeb conference next month, one of the most innovative startups of all might well be a Trojan horse.
On December 4, the StartupBus Europe will depart the canals and revelry of Amsterdam on a three-day bus and boat trip to the French captal via Copenhagen, Berlin, and Zurich. On board will be 25 "buspreneurs" broken into teams, each of which will spend the 72 hours en route, plus the three days of LeWeb, trying to win a competition to build the best new product.
But while the 25 Red Bull-fueled passengers will likely be focused on trying to come up with the winning idea, founder Elias Bizannes argues all of them will have already won something potentially more valuable, even if they don't realize it yet: entry into the StartupBus community and what Bizannes feels is turning into an elite global network.
The most talked about startup of
In 2010, Bizannes organized a single bus for the drive from San Francisco to Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest Interactive festival. Based on the enthusiastic response that trip generated--helped by the fact that one team got $1 million in funding for its idea--he expanded to six SXSW 2011-bound buses from all across the U.S.
As an embedded journalist last March aboard one of the six, I saw StartupBus become the most talked about venture at SXSW. With hundreds of other new tech companies vying for each others' and the national media's attention in Austin, more than 120 buspreneurs prowled the streets and myriad parties around the festival as a ubiquitous T-shirt and laminate wearing street army, evangelizing not for their own creations, but for Bizannes'.
And now, Bizannes--with the help of Dutch entrepreneur Arne Hulstein, who is leading the StartupBus Europe effort along with business partner Timan Rebel--hopes to repeat that success in Europe.
While the size of the group of buspreneurs disembarking in Paris next month will be a fraction of what Bizannes unleashed on Austin last spring, he's thinking long-term. The initial European StartupBus trip is really about "seeding what we're going to be in Europe," he told CNET. "We're seeding our future community and our leadership" on the continent.
What the Australian Bizannes envisions is a StartupBus community in Europe that's someday as big as or even bigger than what he's building in the U.S., despite the fact that for SXSW 2012, he's doubling the number of buses heading to Austin and expecting more than 300 new participants--and a resulting surge in media coverage.
In Europe, Bizannes wants to do the same thing, and wants to link the people that join up over there to the existing network. Everyone who becomes part of the StartupBus system, regardless of where they are, will then have access to "this amazing community of entrepreneurs around the world," he said.
Want a ticket? Auditions required
That's why, though he's based in San Francisco, he's been personally interviewing each would-be buspreneur via Skype in a bid to ensure that those who will be among the first from Europe to join the "tribe" will do it proud over the long haul.
And while StartupBus is a for-profit venture, Bizannes said he has no interest in taking even "a dollar" out of the company right now. Instead, he's got a two-pronged strategy. First, he plans to invest any money that the project does make back into the business. And second, he's trying to rapidly boost its worldwide profile as he develops what he eventually hopes will be his real money-making effort: an incubator he's creating known as Startup House.
All of that, of course, is in the future. There's no way to know for sure if the project will resonate in Europe as it has in the U.S., but given that there is a blooming world of tech entrepreneurs across the pond, it's hard to imagine investors and the media there not getting on board.
Because Startup BusEurope is getting more interest than there are seats, anyone wanting to apply must have an invitation. If you'd like to be on board, send me an e-mail with the subject line "Europe please" to daniel-dot-terdiman-at-cbsinteractive-dot-com. I have invite codes for the first 10 people to write me. But please do so only if you're serious about applying.