Business minds set for contest

by Skip Descant, The Advocate 2/17/2011

Next month, four local entrepreneurs will travel to Miami to board a bus to Austin, Texas, with other travelers for a 48-hour cram session to hopefully develop the next great product, company or idea.

They will be part of the StartupBus project, where bright-minded entrepreneur teams confine themselves to a bus for two days to come up with a business plan that’s developed enough to present to venture capitalists when the bus arrives for the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festival March 11.

StartupBus is structured so that several buses of roughly 25 riders each will depart from places such as San Francisco, New York and Chicago — each a two-day trip to Austin. The Baton Rouge passengers will travel to Miami for a March 8 departure to Austin.

Once the various teams arrive in Austin and present their business plans, the best plan becomes eligible for financial backing from the venture capitalists, said Terry Jones, director of the Regional Innovation Organization in Baton Rouge, which put together the Baton Rouge group.

From Baton Rouge will be Jared Loftus, a self-described “creative entrepreneur” and known mostly for his business, the Paco de Taco food truck.

Brian Jackson, creative design director at Nerjyzed Entertainment, a Baton Rouge digital media company, also will be on board.

So will James Davis, co-founder of Peoplenetz, a software development firm, and Logan Leger, a junior at LSU studying computer engineering who founded the firm NewAperio, a Web company that builds smart phone apps.

The Baton Rouge team is being funded through $10,000 in private donations and the Research Park Corp., which funds the Research Innovation Organization through the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Once the bus gets rolling, the ground rules are relatively few. The Baton Rouge representatives do not necessarily have to work as a four-person team, Jones said. They may gravitate to other riders who can better use their skill sets.

“You get on the bus, and maybe you’re manned with a team with whoever you got on the bus with, or maybe you join forces with anybody on the bus,” Jones said. “By the time you hit Austin, you’ve built your business plan and you pitch to VCs.”

The Baton Rouge riders were selected both for their uniqueness and skills.

“Obviously, we didn’t want to put all of the same type of person on the bus,” Jones said. “We wanted different skill sets and personalities. And if they want to work together they would, and they would fit, but they can also do their own thing.”

Leger said he hopes the bus can use his Internet experience and expertise as a needed skill set.

“So that’s what I’m bringing to the team,” he said. “But we really haven’t talked about ideas or anything like that.”