Entrepreneurship is everywhere. You can simply feel it in the air. People are looking for ways to be innovative, finding their perfect life balance,… Simply taking their lives into their own hands. It’s a very vibrant world, and I would like to make it easier for people that are looking for ways to become more entrepreneurial by finding opportunities that could guide them towards the right path to pursue their dreams.
In this article, you can find an interview with Steven Beeckman, an engineer with a focus on data processing & automatisation. This background introduced him to software where he found his true purpose. He hates dull or repetitive tasks, so he’s always looking for ways to automate whatever is possible. He also loves playing with new concepts or technology and he’s a big fan of building custom prototypes for problems he faces instead of following tutorials.
How did you get introduced to the StartUpBus concept?
That start-up competition appeared to be StartupBus. An idea originated in Silicon Valley by Elias Bizannes. Elias emigrated from Australia and wanted to visit the SXSWi conference. But instead of wandering around and exploring how the next Twitter or Foursquare is being launched, he wanted to build a startup himself! Together with a couple of friends he hired a bus, not long after his idea gets noticed on TechCrunch, and within one week he gathered $20.000, which was enough to hire a bus in America.
The first European edition in 2011 drove from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, Berlin, Zurich and reached it end destination at LeWeb in Paris. The 2011 edition was won by 2 teams, the team of myself and Saskia that build a social travel planner application (that makes it easier to plan a trip with friends). The second team was run by Mike van Hoenselaar, who build an interactive voicemail application on top of the Twilio API, making it possible to make appointments directly in one’s agenda through calling their voicemail.
Why did you decide to continue being involved with the concept, as an organiser?
The StartupBus team strongly believes in the motto “entrepreneurship cannot be taught but it can be learned”. That’s why we like to organise StartupBus.
During these road trips, people have to create teams, do an outstanding pitch, build a product which is launchable and generate traction, all in 72 hours! The buspreneurs really learn by doing.
Helping people to submerge in this experience, is my way to give back to the community. That’s one of the key values of StartupBus, which is extremely community-driven. At this moment, the community consists of a worldwide network of 1500 alumni who are either a hacker, designer and/ or a hustler. Once you joined a StartupBus, you have the possibility to organise a bus. We call the organisers of a bus “conductors”. The year after, you can apply to be a director. These are responsible for an entire competition. This year I’m really lucky as we don’t just have one director but two: Keit Kollo, an awesome UX designer and innovation manager who lives in London, and myself.
Keit Kollo, Director of StartupBus Europe 2016
How’s the overall atmosphere on a bus filled with entrepreneurs?
The bus is usually filled with a strong focus and a “yes we can” mentality. Sometimes there’s a slight feeling of anxiety because the WiFi connection drops because the bus is driving through a region with bad 3G/ 4G coverage.
What’s according to you, the magic of participating in a StartupBus trip?
Joining a StartupBus immerses you into the experience of the first year of a tech startup in a measly 72 hours!
The learning curve is enormous in such a short time frame. People see firsthand what can be reached in a short time frame with a small team of highly motivated people. An experience that you carry with you your entire life.
Besides this, joining a StartupBus is a giant boost for your network. From day one you’re entering an international mentality. You pitch your brand new startup in multiple countries which provides you with immediate feedback from a very diverse group of people. At the end of the trip, all the participating countries come together at one big event. This year during the European edition, busses will start in countries like Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy & Switzerland and will meet each other at the Corda INCubator in Hasselt for demo day. After this event all participating busses drive towards Pirate Summit in Cologne. Which houses a super tech conference where the best startups pitch their asses off on stage for a big group of investors and entrepreneurs. Pirate Summit is a combination of the American SXSW and Burning Man event.
What was the initial target audience for this idea?
To give birth to a tech startup you need a mixture of 3 profiles: software developers (hackers), designers and hustlers. The ideal profiles are people who want to change the status quo and the world in a way that improves our quality of life. Especially people with an open mind and with a natural urge to work together with new people.
Important side note: each bus houses an average of 30 people who don’t know one another. But thanks to working together towards a common goal, this “problem” disappears the minute they put their heads together to dive into their brand new startup.
How many of these startups stay active after the road trip? Or is the goal aimed at making people more entrepreneurial and not so much on the success ratio?
The emphasis is on what people learn from participating, how their network expands and what they do with the experience afterwards. We strongly believe that entrepreneurship can’t be taught in classrooms. You have to learn by doing.
The biggest success story is the one from Instacart: a same-day grocery delivery app that was built by 2 American alumni that met each other at demo day, because they were participating at 2 separate busses! Instacart has a value of over 2 billion dollars. Not bad!
One from the co-founders of Sunrise, a calendar which was recently bought by Microsoft, was a Frenchman that was on the New York bus of several years ago. In Europe, there’s Marie Schneegans that went through with her startup Never Eat Alone after participating in StartupBus. There are several other examples, but there are also alumni working at Uber, Facebook or Microsoft and working their magic from the inside out.
What are the benefits of joining a StartupBus?
The biggest benefit is that you learn a lot in a very short time frame. Not only in theory but more importantly through a practical experience. In the beginning, the organisers set up a couple of milestones, and they also help the participants reaching them according to a certain methodology. This way, they learn to validate their idea, focus on what’s truly important for their end users, give a decent pitch, attract investors and funds, etc.
During a road trip, you get to experience a lot of different countries where participants emerge themselves in pitching events and mentoring sessions in various local ecosystems. This way not only the participants their knowledge expands but also their networks.
In the end, participants are part of the worldwide network of alumni. A big group of people who have been through this life-changing experience, which connects them on a deeper level. You can put, that this experience really brings the ‘spirit of the Valley’ to Europe!
What about the downsides?
The road trips take about 72 hours, and during these three days, you’re stuck with initial unknown people. Even though the busses occasionally stop for a pitch battle at a co-working space or accelerator, and the participants sleep in hotels. At the end of day three, the fatigue kicks in, so small irritations can be less tolerated.
What’s the cost of participation?
The price slightly rises each year, but the value and places you experience do as well. This edition, people pay € 399 for joining the StartupBus and a clear passage for the Pirate Summit. At the check-out people have to pay for their own sleeping expenses, but this additional cost will be less than € 200. In total, participants can experience this 6-day adventure for € 600.
What’s the future of this concept?
StartupBus is alive! We have yearly competitions in North-America and Europe, but also in Australia. In Africa we have a spin-off named Ampion, where a lot of fun and impressive things happen. We’re also looking for ways to expand to Asia, Central- and South-America and the Middle-East. Just last month, we got requests for organising busses in Armenia and Georgia!
Do you think there’s a need for more hackathons to stimulate innovation at established companies?
Yes and no. A lot of companies already invested in a change management process. A lot of times there are strong gatekeepers that hold back on risky – and that’s innovation pur sang – changes. Also, people with great ideas – who are usually at the bottom of the organisational structure – often times don’t find their way to that change management process. An internal hackathon can democratise a change management process because often times this gets marketed in a better way.
You reacted on the recent partnership (link in Dutch) between Startit@kbc and Telenet, that they only focus on Belgium. Do you think Belgium needs an initiative that focuses its scope on internationalization?
One of the reactions last year, came from a British participant that didn’t know that Europe had such an active startup environment and thanks to StartupBus he has a much better sight on everything that was going on in the European startup community. Brilliant, not?
In Belgium as well, a lot of people are gazing to their own navel, often times literally. A couple of weeks ago, Ghent (link in Dutch) announced that it would like to profile itself as a scale-up city. In Belgium, a lot of people know Silicon Valley, but only a few know that Stanford, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Francisco are also a part of the Valley. We also aren’t aware that New York City is a massive startup hotspot and a lot of startups move to Boulder, Colorado because the housing costs are much lower than the ones in the Valley.
The last couple of years we saw a huge rise in the number of coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators. The governments themselves are investing in innovation and support for startups. A great cause of course, but nonetheless a big part of the population is still conservative and afraid of losing their jobs. But these people don’t need to change their way of living, if they want to live according to the typical Belgian system of work, that’s perfectly fine. If not, that’s the core of entrepreneurship, you can choose the entrepreneurial life. And StartupBus is according to us, the best way to learn what entrepreneurship is truly about.
You got me convinced, where can people apply to join this life-changing experience?
Thank you for your time Steven!