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StartupBus entrepre­neurs hit the road

A group of strangers tumble out of sleep into a drizzly San Francisco morning Sunday, looking forward to boarding a bus bound for Texas to develop the next big tech craze.

They’re participating in an industry challenge called StartupBus that combines computer hackers, developers and marketing specialists on a three-day bus trip with the hope of creating a marketable product.

While sorting this year’s list of possible contestants — called buspreneurs —  StartupBus alumnus and San Francisco conductor Prateek Gupta said company leaders were looking for people who do awesome stuff:

“If you say you’re a visionary then prove it. We’re looking for people who do interesting things and who we want to hang out with for three days.”

The rules are simple: Once the bus leaves, everyone pitches ideas and teams are free to form organically. Every team tries to outdo the others in creating the next big idea.

Photos by Gabriella Gamboa/SFBay

This year, buses left for Rackspace headquarters in San Antonio from nine North America locations including Toronto, Guadalajara, Kansas City, New York, Seattle, Florida and San Francisco.

After they arrive in Texas, teams from each bus will be chosen to compete in the semi-finals where challengers will be whittled down to five teams going into the finals. Final entries will be judged by industry experts based on innovation and usability.

Before they can win, though, each team needs an idea, which is where the Saturday night mixer in SoMa came in to play.

Wearing their hopes and dreams on their sleeves — as proudly as their matching Vans sneakers — the group of young hip tech workers got together to float their ideas for the next big thing.

The smart money seemed to be on apps driven by Google Glass, wristbands or drones.

Maybe that’s why 34-year-old full stack software engineer, web developer and San Francisco resident Sam Miyakawa said he’s just out to have fun.

His idea for a startup website: Build a news site similar to Reddit, but with only one button, a middle finger.

When users browse the site and read stories about subjects that anger them — like police brutality or animal cruelty — they can hit the middle finger button.

Articles are then ranked by the number of middle fingers they’ve been given by readers with the most-upsetting stories appearing at the top.

Meanwhile, 40-year-old software engineer Kenneth Ng said he’d like to work on creating a crowd funded healthcare website where users receive donations to help pay their medical bills.

“Instead of selling their house to pay their medical bills, people can get help from other people.”

These San Francisco contestants will be vying with other talented techies, like Anil Pattni, who specializes in perfecting users’ computer experiences.

Anil has already worked on two startup companies based in Orange County: QGITS, a web publication covering issues for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students, and OC Hackerz, devoted to linking up techies, businessmen and marketers to create new products:

“I can tell you how not to fail. The quicker you learn that, the better off you are.”

Competitors will be going up against 28-year-old Spotify Chaos Coordinator Mo Tracey, who said she’s interested in working on emerging space and initiatives to benefit the social good that can transfer to the global stage.

Spotify is also one of this year’s sponsors.

Along with competing with the other contestants, Tracey said she’ll also be competing with herself to stay awake and stay hydrated:

“It’s like getting thrown in the deep end and learning to swim.”

Whether they win in Texas or not, every StartupBus contestant will leave the competition having built a network of friends they can carry with them through their careers.

Last year’s group bonded so well they attended the festival South by Southwest in nearby Austin as a group and designed an app called Drunk Spotting along the way.

The app enabled users to draw pictures on photographs of a person’s face like teenagers would draw on their passed out friend.

You can follow the StartupBus and stay up to date with the latest events by following @startupbussf, @startupbus, #StartupBus and #StartupBusSF on Twitter.

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