Monday night was game time for the aspiring entrepreneurs who have spent the past three days furiously programming and designing start-ups on the road, plus four days perfecting their pitches. Seven teams—at least one from each bus from Chicago, Cleveland, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley—faced off before a panel of judges that included entrepreneurs and prominent investors such as Dave McClure of 500 Hats, Naval Ravikant of Angel List, and Greg Veen of TypeKit. It came down to a nailbiter, with the panel unable to decide between TripMedi and WalkIN, teams from New York and Silicon Valley. Here are the highlights from a packed Hilton conference room last night where the StartupBus competition came to a close:
1. Bouncr: Bit.ly for e-mail. Built on a bus in three days, this idea stood out for its simplicity and ease of use. Paste an e-mail in a field on the Bouncr.com homepage, and a short, anonymous address is generated. By Monday night, 2,700 e-mail addresses had been processed by Bouncr. What's the use? "Imagine the inbox of busy venture capitalist Dave McClure…" the team's representative said, proposing the anonymous link as a way to weed out contacts that might otherwise spam your mailbox, or pass on your e-mail address to spammers. The site, built by programmers from the San Francisco bus, garnered buzz last week including an article on Mashable.com, and was already working on a revenue model: "You'll notice that on the confimation page there's a little ad, and an ad means revenue." The judges said: Bouncr is useful, practical, and already up and running: all strong positives. But due to the team introducing future plans to diversify products, including e-mail newsletters and a URL shortener, the funders cautioned against spreading energies too thin. The result: The site was named a finalist.
2. MyNewman: The "anti-social" network. In short, MyNewman is a social network that uses game mechanic to foster the use of virtual goods. In practicality, it's a bunch of puns put to life (it has "crapps" instead of "apps," which are virtual goods or jokes users can play on one another; a user can network with "frenemies" and "worthy foes.") What's so clever here, and what gained a huge round of applause is that the site targets 18- to 34-year-old men, "this group is very good at what is called prankster culture," the presenter said. The MyNewman team plans to launch something of a hacker dojo, meaning it will have a clever enough user base to populate it with "crapps," but also, MyNewman provides a place for hackers and trolls to interact online, "so they're spending time on MyNewman, and not on your site. The judges said: "On the bright side, you don't have much competition," one said. "Have you considered making a Facebook app?" Others noted that there's definitely a market for "humor at others' expense," they weren't sure the place for that is a social network. The result: Finalist.
3. TripMedi: Yelp for medical tourism. The idea sounds brash, but the presentation was thoughtful, and proved that there's a wide-open market for delivering useful information to people who cannot afford surgery in the United States. According to TripMedi's data, three million people a year travel abroad for medical care and, in the U.S., that translates to a $20 million market poised to grow 15 percent a year. That's due to the nearly 50 million Americans lacking health insurance, the TripMedi team says. With a logo created by Yiying Lu (of fail whale fame), the site design is minimalist and sharp. "When people look for medical tourism right now, they find some weird, weird stuff," the presenter said. "It's not sexy, but it's a billion-dollar industry, and we believe this is a disruptive service that can change how this is done." Check out the current TripMedi site here. The judges said: While the judges commended the team for doing something that could actually save peoples' lives, they also criticized the site's user interface. "It looks pretty, but I had trouble trying to decipher it," one judge said. Still, McClure told the team they "rocked" their presentation. The result: Co-winner.
4. WalkIN: Killing the wait for dinner. Inspiration struck for this one when the Silicon Valley team of nine was asked to sit and wait for their name to be called at a restaurant. They thought: Why not use cell phones and QR codes to eliminate the need to stand around until a table opens up? Hence, WalkIN. When guests enter an establishment, they can use a smartphone to scan a QR code, ideally located at the host's stand. They'll then receive a message when their table is ready, freeing them up to go for a stroll, and (one can only hope) being the death of those flashing-light buzzer devices used by chain restaurants. The current WalkIN runs in HTML5, so no app upgrade is necessary. From the restaurant's side, an iPad or any single screen can be used to monitor the list. Monetization could occur through nearby recommendations, incentives, or even a way to sell one's spot in line. The judges said: The name was praised as thoughtful and "inspirational." Another urged the team to make sure there are ways built in to the service that allowed the restaurants to make money from using the service as well. The result: Co-winner.