Get on the bus

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The beauty of SXSW is that the best meetings are the ones you don’t plan. Scoping out the iPad line earlier I ran into Marc Kaplan, who got to Austin the long way: by bus. Specifically, by Startup Bus, the rolling-entrepreneurial-brainstorming-session that sent one bus to SXSW last year. This time, they launched a fleet of seven. Reporters tagged along on the buses from New York and Silicon Valley, but the Miami crew lacked a tribe scribe, so they kindly adopted me.

The first rule of Startup Bus is “there are no rules.” The framework is straightforward: Throw a bunch of geeks together on a bus to SXSW, and in the time they’re rolling, they create startups. About a half-dozen of them. Per bus. Yes, heavy alcohol consumption was involved in the creation of this concept.

But it works. Major companies like AT&T, Microsoft and Xero are sponsoring this year’s expedition, and a team of judges is going to winnow down the field to a handful of finalists. Those teams will pitch Monday night for the venture-capital backing to go chase their vision.

VC Steve Repetti can’t wait to see some of these ideas leap off the bus and onto the Web. The CEO of tech services company/investment fund RadWebTech and a veteran of last year’s inaugural Startup Bus trip, he conducted the Miami bus — i.e., herded the cats — and is heading off this afternoon to powwow with the judges and choose finalists. For him, the bus trip is a chance to connect with a diverse mix of passionate techies: “The alumni relationship is the best thing I got out of the bus last year,” he says.

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One clear winner from the Startup Bus derby: Domain-name registrars. The Miami contingent estimates that its bus alone registered at least a dozen of them since they hit the road Tuesday morning. The ideas may have been thrown together quickly, but they’ve touched a nerve with their inventors. Two of the Miami crew I talked with — IsItGood4.me creator John Berjarano and the team behind Grupii, a visually and chronically focused Twitter curator — say they plan to definitely keep developing their venture, whether or not it makes the Startup Bus finals.

So which startup will emerge victorious? Stay tuned. -Stacy

(Photos of the Miami crew in action courtesy of John Berjarano.)