Attention, all hipsters, hackers and hustlers: Akron’s rolling entrepreneurial incubator is hitting the pavement again, and it’s doing so alongside riders from the country’s startup hub, Silicon Valley.

The Akron Makerbus is competing for the second time ever in the national StartupBus Americas competition in New Orleans this year, where teams from across the country will gather to pitch their startup business ideas.

The event, first held in 2011 enroute to Austin, Texas, is described as a “Hackathon on wheels.” Here are the basics: People with various skill sets — many of whom are strangers — apply, and are either accepted or denied based on what they bring to the table. Each group will then leave Monday to take a three-day trip to New Orleans on a bus, stopping at other entrepreneurial hubs along the way.

Riders are encouraged to arrive on the bus with an idea, which they have two minutes to pitch the first day. The goal of the ride is to form smaller groups on each bus to create a prototype of their idea for a startup, which they’ll pitch during a competition Aug. 3 in New Orleans. Winners aren’t awarded any money, just bragging rights.

Ian Schwarber, an Akron Makerbus 2017 co-conductor, said after each person pitches the first day, teams begin to form “organically” and are up and running by day two.

“These things really progress at light speed,” Schwarber said. “You’d be amazed where they can get after 72 hours.”

There are seven teams participating this year. Schwarber said Akron is the underdog by a long shot in terms of size, competing against cities like New York and St. Louis.

This year, though, Akron may just have the upper hand.

Because San Francisco to New Orleans is such a long distance to drive, the 16 California participants are flying to Columbus instead, where the Akron Makerbus will pick them up its first day on the road. Schwarber said he hopes the cross-pollination in skill sets will just be the beginning for a multitude of startups in the Akron area.

The Akron Makerbus places an emphasis on creating and manufacturing physical products, hence its name. The San Francisco team, however, tends to ebb on the technological side of product development, usually focusing on creating apps and services of the like.

Last year, San Francisco placed first in the national competition, and Akron placed second. Schwarber, who is also the strategic partnerships manager for the national StartupBus 2017 competition, said he arranged for the two winning teams to converge to “see what kind of magic can happen” while giving them a chance to network.

“We really wanted the Akron entrepreneurial ecosystem to have a direct link to Silicon Valley,” Schwarber said. “Companies that form will literally merge these two regions. From a Midwest Akron point of view, that is an enormous development.”

Kickoff tour

On Friday, the Makerbus’ 22 riders, along with sponsors and mentors, were invited to BLU Jazz+ for a launch party and crash courses about what to expect on the bus.

Schwarber, along with the bus’ other co-conducter, Kyle McKee, emphasized that being on the bus is not easy.

They, and plenty of others, also attested to the great things that can happen in entrepreneurial incubators, like Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com, who served as a keynote speaker to the riders Friday night.

“When you hit on a good idea, amazing things happen,” Hoffman said. “You’ve got to let the crazy fly … One idea and five minutes might change the whole rest of your history.”

Hoffman wasn’t the only one there who knew the magic of one good idea.

Ray Lewis first rode a StartupBus in 2012 in Las Vegas, where he and his cofounders launched their company Wastebits, a web-based platform used to track and monitor industrial and commercial waste.

They didn’t win the 2012 competition, but since then, they’ve brought StartupBus to Akron along with their company, which is now headquartered on the corner of Water and Exchange streets downtown.

“It’s an addicting thing,” Lewis said about StartupBus. “At the end of the day, it’s building people, not companies.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.

“When you hit on a good idea, amazing things happen. You’ve got to let the crazy fly.”

Jeff Hoffman

Co-founder of Priceline.com