Local entrepreneur hopes to launch next big thing on StartupBus

Lu Doan is hitting the road in search of risk and opportunity in the company of 24 strangers.

The 34-year-old Naples man is part of an experiment in entrepreneurship called StartupBus, in which six buses, including Doan’s out of Miami, will head for Austin, Texas, to pitch business ideas to potential investors.

The catch: none of the ideas has been developed. The “busrepreneurs” on Tuesday began a 48-hour bus ride to develop business plans from start to finish.

“I just thought it was a really cool idea,” Doan said. “Probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

StartupBus launched last year with one bus driving from San Francisco to Austin’s South by Southwest music, film and interactive conference. Teams presented their ideas to investors, who picked a couple of companies to fund.

Another participant expanded an idea into a company that he later sold for $5 million, said Steve Repetti, a sponsor in last year’s inaugural StartupBus.

Repetti signed on this year to lead the Miami bus, which pulled entrepreneurs from across the southern United States.

He will act as an adviser. There are few ground rules.

Once the bus has rolled out Tuesday morning, anyone can pitch an idea. Riders will whittle them down to six ventures. They will form teams based on skill sets and negotiate for a spot in the company.

The bus, full of business people, finance experts, graphic artists and Web and application developers, will be hooked up with power and Internet capabilities.

“We’re going to be a rolling factory of startups,” Repetti said.

Michele Lorito-Chase, of Fort Myers, who launched a startup a couple of years ago, jumped at the chance to participate in StartupBus.

“That you can actually conceive, develop and launch a business in 48 hours,” she said, “it’s not for the faint of heart.”

There may be little sleep and an even smaller chance that one of the ideas becomes the next biggest thing, Doan acknowledged.

But that’s part of the thrill.

“There’s always that appeal of hitting the home run,” Doan said. “Of course, 99.9 percent of the time it’s a strikeout.”

Doan had been involved in startups since college in 1999 and, since then, the 9-to-5 corporate ladder held little interest.

“I like to move quick,” he said. “The energy, the intensity (of startups), it’s a huge cultural difference.”

Once in Austin, the Miami bus, together with the five others (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland and Silicon Valley) will produce video presentations. The 36 potential ventures will be posted online and voters from the community can help judges select which six should go on to finals on March 14.

Although there will only be one winner, there’s no end to the true prize — connections.

“I don’t necessarily care who the finalists are,” said Repetti, who also invests in startups. “I’m interested in passionate people.”

StartupBus isn’t the only crunch-time business development program. Startup Weekend launched in 2007 in Boulder, Colo., and now hosts events for 15,000 entrepreneurs in 100 cities across the globe.

It’s the way of the future for businesses, Lorito-Chase said.

“It’s proven at this point in our economic history that there’s a flaw within the old business paradigm,” she said. “There’s a new breed of business coming into the world and it’s going to change things phenomenally.”

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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