StartupBus is not an easy competition. It’s stressful, challenging and highly competitive; it brings together some of the best players in the technology and Internet industry and it gathers them to transform creative ideas and insights into working companies. All of this happens in just 3-4 days, so certain things we normally take for granted, such as sleep, healthy food and comfort are sacrificed in the name of productivity, collaboration and hunger for success. The ideas and businesses that were conceived during StartupBus were extremely high quality and interesting in potential. No wonder, since Buspreneurs from places such as Silicon Valley and New York participated putting their broad industry expertise to work.
In this context, it is worth mentioning that this was Mexico’s second year as a participant at StartupBus and that it was the only bus rolling in from another country into the USA. This same context, for starters, puts the Mexico StartupBus story in a dramatic situation. As the Mexican Bus makes its journey from Mexico City to Austin, TX, it endures hardships that are unheard of in the American buses. The first one being, namely, that our telecommunications infrastructure is sub-par, which makes Internet reception on the road close to nothing; then, we have the international border, which represents a genuine waste of time as we are stuck in a line to cross and then stuck at a later line to obtain our permits from the immigration authorities. Third, our buses on the Mexican side are not as equipped as the ones on the American side, which translates into lack of power outlets and again, lack of wifi connectivity. So after analyzing the Mexican situation, you might be able to see that there’s a slight disadvantage that puts us very subtly into an underdog position.
Then we have some other important factors to consider. Historically, when compared to the United States, Mexico has frequently been portrayed, at times quite accurately, as an ugly duckling, the awkward neighbour and as the aforementioned underdog. There’s many reasons for this, but speaking in summarized fashion, it is because we have proved to be quite mediocre and under-achieving in the economic, educational, social and technological arena. We are the third-world country that sits next to the world’s ultimate superpower. Logically, this casts a perpetual dark shadow over us and the grass is always greener on the North side of the Rio Grande.
It is then, no surprise, that generally speaking, we Mexicans have a strong tendency to feel less than our American counterparts. In the technology and Internet industry, this is manifested as an almost worshipping respect and admiration for developer and business peers who work in famed industry clusters, such as, again, Silicon Valley and New York City. There is oftentimes a notion and widespread feeling that they are smarter, better prepared, and more capable than us. This is, of course, just a generalization, but one that can affect the performance of Mexican teams going directly against American teams, especially in a high-stakes competition such as StartupBus.
However, that is exactly why StartupBus is a big deal. It gives us Mexicans, a chance to have a direct talent clash with the American nerd gang, and that is exactly what happened this 2013. The Mexican Team proved that it is no longer content with being considered as underachieving. We managed to push past the hurdles that I referred to before and created grand and visionary companies in spite of them. There was not an ounce of talent that was wasted: our Mexican hackers created mind-blowing apps in just 72 hours, our designers made the companies seem and feel top-notch, and our hustlers managed to create some serious buzz in social and mass media. The result was that 3 of our 7 teams made it to the semi-finals and 2 of those 3 made it to the Finals. Not bad for an “ugly duckling”.
Lots of amazing things happened in the Mexican bus. A 21 year old hacker who’s still in school, managed to build by himself the working platform that pushed his team, USupplyMe to the Finals. Cloudspotting, another of the Mexican companies that made it to the Finals, received a standing ovation from the audience because of how fun and awesome their service is and because it transported users to a happy place. They even got an actual offer from one of the judges to start working together right away. Another team, FitChallenge, which made it to semi-finals, built two beautiful working mobile apps (iOS and Android) in just 3 days. USupplyMe also managed to have some of the biggest celebrities in Mexico rooting for them on Twitter, giving them exposure to millions of their followers. It was a genuine feast to watch how the Mexican crew just made things happen, one after the other, breaking apart any obstacle that showed up between them and their quest for glory.
Added to the raw building and creating talent of the Mexican StartupBus, there was also the element of its perennially cheerful and joyful atmosphere. It was common for us to hear remarks coming from the American buspreneurs, expressing how fun our Bus seemed and how they would love to hop on it the following year, just to be a part of that magnetic crowd. Whenever Team Mexico had any sort of accomplishment, such as 3 of our teams advancing to semi-finals, we would roar and cheer like crazy, genuinely ecstatic and filled with pride that one of ours would be representing us against the other very talented and experimented teams. Because of the context I explained before, all of these small victories were truly a big deal to us: it was a sign of breaking historic and cultural stigmata which have haunted us in the past. It was also physical proof that there is no shortage of entrepreneurial and technical abilities in Mexico, which are only waiting to be exploited to their maximum potential.
In the end, Mexico showed the American Internet industry that we are worthy contenders of a high-stakes, high-prestige international business competition such as StartupBus. We didn’t merely participate: we flirted with victory and charmed some of the most elite technology communities in the world along the way with our honest desire to prove our worth as players in the global innovation scene. Mexico possesses the necessary raw matter to become a hotbed of innovation and technology in North and Latin America. It is bound to do so, if we can first tackle our cultural and historic issues of insecurity and self-worth, while continuing to improve and work on other core areas such as education and scientific research. StartupBus is one of those events that is especially useful for this purpose. We need to keep flexing our muscles in these kinds of intense competitions and keep showing the world how much quality can come out of Mexico; perhaps in the process we Mexicans might end up also acknowledging all of this and transmitting it to our fellow countrymen.
Photo: StartupBus México 2013