Tallahassee is the capital of the state of Florida, and it’s also the home of Domi Station, Tallahassee’s business incubator, coworking space, event venue, general all-round supporter of startups in the area, and friend of this blog (they were a host for StartupBus Florida when we passed through earlier this year). Domi Station is also the home of Startup Week Tallahassee, which happens this week!
And the events are FREE TO ATTEND!
The event is the Tallahassee edition of Techstars Startup Week, a week-long event celebrating entrepreneurship and the startup community. Startup Week features speakers and events to inspire, inform, and introduce people who share an entrepreneurial spirit.
Startup Week Tallahassee 2022 takes place this week, November 14th through 18th at three locations (including Domi Station) and will have 12 tracks focused on different industries:
Anitra and I attended last night’s CyberX Tampa event, an conference about the cybersecurity industry here in Tampa Bay. It was an extraordinarily well-attended event, with over 170 people gathered together to talk about technology, security, and the local tech scene.
The event took place at TheIncLab’s offices, located in one of the old warehouses in Tampa’s historic Ybor City neighborhood, which is largely made of repurposed cigar factories from the late 1800s. They have a beautiful courtyard which I’m familiar with — before it was TheIncLab’s place, it was home to The Undercroft, whose UC Baseline cybersecurity course I took in 2020.
CyberX Tampa opened with drinks, snacks, and networking, followed by two simultaneous panels.
The courtyard had the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion panel, featuring:
This article is a work in progress — I’m making it available to readers as I write it!
On Wednesday July 27, 2022, 13 people boarded a bus at The Sail on the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa bound for Austin, Texas to participate in a contest unlike any other: StartupBus 2022. I was one of those 13 people, and this is what happened on (and off) that bus.
StartupBus is the Mother of All Hackathons. The first part of the event is a three-day bus ride where buspreneurs (contestants), with help from conductors (coaches), conceive a technology startup, its software, and marketing and business plans. There are a number of buses that start in different places — in 2022, the buses left from California, Mexico City, Cincinnati, and Tampa — and they spend three days making their toward Austin, where their buspreneurs present their startups at the qualifying, semi-final, and final rounds of judging. It’s a road trip, entrepreneurship crash course, competition, and adventure all in one.
Day 1: On the bus from Tampa to Gainesville and Tallahassee
Boarding the bus
At 6:00 a.m., I arrived at The Sail, the designated pickup loacation. It’s a pavilion located downtown, on the Tampa Riverwalk, just a stone’s throw away from the Tampa Convention Center. The buspreneurs were told that the bus would depart at 7, so I expected to be the first one there. Instead, Mandy was there, and so were a handful of buspreneurs. This was a good sign.
The bus should’ve been there too, but it wasn’t. None of our bus contacts were responding to messages or Mandy’s phone calls.
“Let’s just chalk this up to Murphy’s Law and declare 6:45 as ‘panic o’clock,’” I suggested.
Fortunately, she made contact with the bus people at around panic o’clock, and they told us that they were on their way. That gave us a little more time to chat and get to know each other a little more:
The slight delay gave us a chance to load up on coffee and a little breakfast food. We started boarding the bus soon afterward:
Here’s a shot showing Josh’s photobombing prowess:
…and shortly after 7:30, our bus started making its way toward the highway.
The secret route
While the buspreneurs knew that the bus would start in Tampa on Wednesday morning and arrive in Austin sometime on Friday evening, they didn’t know what route we’d take or what stops we’d make.
The simplest route from Tampa to Austin takes I-75 north to I-10, and then takes I-10 west, a route 1,200 miles (a little over 1900 km) long. If you were to drive that distance at a consistent 70 miles an hour with no stops at all, you could make the trip in a little over 17 hours. Add stops for activities (more about these later), meals, sleep (at hotels or Airbnbs — we weren’t going to sleep on the bus), and bio breaks, and the trip easily expands to fill three days. At least one of the buspreneurs did some map consulting and guessed our route and where we might end up stopping.
Here’s a map of the route we took:
Shortly after everyone had settled in on the bus, it was time to get started with the opening ceremonies. The buspreneurs were already familiar with us conductors, so we got on with the task of having the mentors say something to inspire them. First Cary…
With the introductory speeches out of the way, the next step was to have the buspreneurs introduce themselves and propose a startup idea.
The buspreneurs got to refine their startup pitches in an online meetup with one of Tampa Bay’s Toastmasters groups, who listened and provided valuable feedback.
After the meetup, the buspreneurs started talking amongst themselves to figure out which startups they should create. Remember, they had only three days to create them!
In the meantime, I got into an extensive conversation with Cary about his life and work, and we discovered that we had both lived in Toronto. Small world!
Unlike those recipe sites where you have to scroll past lots of backstory and unrelated personal trivia before you get to the actual recipe, I’m going to give you the advice first.
It’s just this: in a hackathon, simple and working beats complex and non-functional.
The demo you build should be all about showing your main idea in action. The user should be able to go to your site or launch the application, use it to perform the intended task or achieve the intended result, and there should be a clear sign that the user succeeded at the end. That’s it. Anything else is gold-plating, and you don’t have time for that in a hackathon, whether you’re allotted an afternoon or, as in the case of StartupBus, three days. On a bus. With lots of interruptions.
Once again, I repeat my best hackathon advice: simple and working beats complex and non-functional.
Want to join StartupBus Florida?
It’s not too late to register to register for StartupBus Florida, which departs Tampa on the morning of Wednesday, July 27 and arrives in Austin, Texas on Friday, July 29 with surprises aplenty in between.
While on the road for three days, you’ll build a startup and its supporting application. Then on Saturday, July 30 and Sunday, July 31 in Austin, you’ll present your startup and application to judges in the semifinals (Saturday) and finals (Sunday).
Here’s a story from a hackathon where I applied this principle and impressed the judges enough for them to make up a new prize category on the spot.
In 2017, GM (yes, the auto manufacturer) held “Makers Hustle Harder” hackathons in a handful of cities to see what people could build on their Next Generation Infotainment (NGI) SDK for in-car console systems.
The NGI SDK made it possible for developers to write apps for the in-car infotainment consoles located in many GM vehicle center dashboards, like the one pictured above. The SDK gives you access to:
An 800-pixel high by 390-pixel wide touchscreen to receive input from and display information to the user
The voice system to respond to user commands and provide spoken responses to the user
Data from nearly 400 sensors ranging from the state of controls (buttons and the big dial) to instrumentation (such as speed, trip odometer, orientation) to car status information (Are there passengers in the car? Are the windows open or closed?) and more.
The navigation system to get and set navigation directions
The media system to play or stream audio files
The file system to create, edit, and delete files on the system
An inter-app communication system so that apps can send messages to each other
With the SDK, developers could build and test apps for GM cars on your their own computers. It came with an emulator that lets you see your apps as they would appear on the car’s display, simulate sensor readings, and debug your app with a specialized console.
I arrived at Tampa Hackerspace that morning, and it was already abuzz with activity:
Outside in the parking lot were 3 NGI-equipped GM vehicles provided by Crown, a local auto dealer. Two of them were Buick Lacrosse sedans…
…and one was a GM Sierra truck:
The NGI team were there to answer our questions and help us install our apps onto the in-car console to give them some non-emulator, on-the-real-thing testing.
I performed a “smoke test” on my test app, Shotgun (an app that takes a list of names and randomly decides which one gets to “ride shotgun”) early in the morning on the Sierra’s console…
…and I have to say that there’s nothing like the feeling when your code runs for the first time on a completely new-to-you platform.
My main reason for being there was to help out Chris Woodard (whom I knew from his Cocoa / iOS programming Meetup group) on WeatherEye, his app that provides live weather reports for your planned route as you drove. When we completed it early in the afternoon, I ran a smoke test on it, and it worked as well.
With a couple of hours of “hacking time” left, I came up with a silly idea and coded it up: a timer for the game classically known as the “Chinese Fire Drill”. Here’s how it worked:
Four people get in the car, close the doors, and someone starts the app. They’ll see this screen:
When everyone’s ready, someone in the front presses the start button.
If any of the doors are open when the start button is pressed, the players will be told to close all the doors first:
If all the doors are closed when the start button is pressed, the game begins. The screen looks like this:
Players exit the car, run around it once, return to their original seat, and close their doors.
The game ends when all four doors are closed, at which point the time it took them to complete the drill is displayed:
Everyone who built a project presented it at the end of the day to the panel of judges, and the organizers saved Fitness Fire Drill for the very end — it got a lot of laughs.
In the end…
My wife Anitra was flying out early the following morning on business, so rather than stay for the hackathon dinner and judges’ results, I high-tailed it home to have dinner with her. Before going to bed, I noticed that Chris had sent me an email telling me that Fitness Fire Drill won the “Judges’ Fetish” prize (a category they’d made up just for my submission), something I wasn’t expecting!
From that outcome, I learned what I now call the First Rule of Hackathons: simple and working beats complex and non-functional.
We’re about a week and a half away from Wednesday, July 27th, when four buses — one from here in Tampa Bay, along with buses from Cincinnati, Silicon Valley, and Mexico City — will start a three-day journey to Austin Texas.
During those three days, the buses’ riders will be participating in a hackathon, where they’ll be challenged to:
Come up with an idea for a startup business
Develop a plan for that startup
Work on a pitch for that startup
Develop the software for that startup
We’ve got a lot of idea, business, and design people on this year’s StartupBus Florida, but we need more developers.
This is a call to developers in the Tampa Bay area and beyond to join StartupBus Florida. You don’t have to be from Tampa Bay or even Florida to ride StartupBus Florida — you just have to be up for a hackathon, road trip, and personal growth all rolled up together!
You don’t have to be an genius-level coder; you just have to know how to code!
I’ve participated in and organized plenty of hackathons, and I’ve seen so many people resist participating because they believe that they’re not good enough coders. I think that if you can code, you’re good enough — and more importantly, participating in a hackathon can make you a better coder!
Here’s the thing: in a hackathon, you’re not coding a full-fledged app in its final form. You’re building a prototype application that demonstrates what would be possible if you had the time and resources to build a full-fledged app in its final form. You’re building the thing that makes the difference between a startup idea and a startup reality.
If you’re unsure about joining StartupBus Florida as a coder, ask yourself these questions:
Can I program a basic web, mobile, or desktop application that can respond to user input?
Can I make that application save data to and retrieve data from a database?
Can I make that application make use of an API?
Can I figure out new things by asking questions and Googling?
If you can answer “yes” to questions 1 and 4, as well as answer “yes” to either questions 2 or 3 (or both), you should join StartupBus Florida as a coder!
StartupBus Florida departs Tampa on Wednesday, July 27, and it’s not too late to get in on the opportunities it presents!
Opportunity #1: Get away from your day-to-day and go on an adventure!
Whether you go to an office, work from home, some combo of the previous two, or are looking for work, StartupBus Florida offers a chance to break away from your daily routine and spend a few unpredictable, exciting, and challenging days on the road building a startup and the application that supports it.
Opportunity #2: Try new tools or use familiar ones in completely new ways!
Have you been looking for an opportunity to try out a new tool, programming language, framework, API or service, but haven’t been able to because you’ve been bogged down with your day-to-day work? StartupBus Florida is your chance!
Have you been looking for an opportunity to stretch by taking a tool, programming language, framework, API or service that you’re quite familiar with, and using it in new ways or for new purposes? Again, StartupBus Florida is your chance!
The map below shows StartupBus Florida’s 2019 route from Tampa that year’s destination city, New Orleans:
Among other things, it provided us buspreneurs with a chance to see parts of the country that many of us normally don’t get to see and meet people that we normally wouldn’t get to meet.
This’s year’s destination city is Austin, Texas! Since it’s a different destination city, we’re going to take a different route, with different stops in different places with different people. But the opportunity to see different places and people will still be there.
Opportunity #4: Road trip to the delightfully weird city of Austin, Texas!
Austin is just plain fun. It’s a mishmash of alternative, Latino, Texan, and college cultures that combine to make it a great place to get great food and drink in a lively party atmosphere, catch some great live music, see some stunning sights, and meet some great people. It’s also where the semi-finals and finals will take place (remember, you’ll spend the Wednesday, July 27th through Friday, July 29th on the bus to Austin, followed by 2 days in Austin: the semi-finals on Saturday, July 30th and the finals on Sunday, July 31st).
Every resume lists experience working in an office, whether in a traditional office space, a coworking space, or someone’s home. Only a select few list the experience of working on a bus to create a startup and its supporting application in an handful of days. This is the kind of experience that speaks to your skills, resilience, creativity, positivity, and ambition. A ride on StartupBus supercharged my resume, and it can supercharge yours, too!
Opportunity #6: Boost your company profile with a sponsorship!
StartupBus is a crazy idea — what person in their right mind would build a business and its supporting technology in three days on a bus?
StartupBus has also created a number of advances, from Instacart to the advances in careers for many of its participants (Yours Truly included), and it can also advance your company’s profile if you decide to be a sponsor. You too can be part of this crazy idea, and we’ll make sure that your praises are sung if you sponsor us!
(Want to be a StartupBus Florida sponsor and get praise from the entire StartupBus organization as well as Tampa Bay’s number one tech blog? Drop me a line and find out more.)
Do you want in on these opportunities? Register now!