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    #HelloHighlights: StartupBus In 22 Photos

    StartupBus describes its purpose as "combining the energy of a hackathon and the magic of a road trip [to provide] the ultimate adventure on wheels." While this is the 9th year in a row that the competition has been in operation, 2018 marks the first time one of the StartupBuses was dedicated to women⁺ and gender non-conforming individuals. From 27 April to 1 May, I joined the history-making bus from New York City to New Orleans with a selected group of almost 30 talented designers, developers, and influencers who competed to build and launch the best startup among 8 different regions: Silicon Valley, New York City, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Tampa, Dallas, and Mexico City. My highlights of the week below:

    Hello! Hi! :)

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Proudly representing our bus (Left to right): Me, Tina Le Phan, Tina Kang, Brandi Kinard, and Mouminatou Barry.

    "The collaboration environment on this particular StartupBus is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; we did this together with an amazing group of women who encouraged and supported us. Who said women can’t work together?" said Tina Le Phan.

    StartupBus / Via Private Collection

    co-Conductor Keit Kollo said, "This is my fifth StartupBus and never have I seen buspreneurs care so much for each other. StartupBus is a unique competition that brings the best, sometimes the worst, out of people. There’s struggle, there’s fight, yet there is win. So much win."

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    NBC followed our journey from start to finish, and produced a short documentary titled, "The Disruptors: Cross-country hackathon creates a women and TGNC only space to help challenge the status quo."

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    2017 Buspreneur and this year's co-Conductor Colleen Wong helped secured the IBM sponsorship for the Women+ in Blockchain vehicle, the largest sponsorship out of all the buses this year! She said, "As critical as many may be of corporate money, it's important that we all work together to invest in a more equitable future. Partnering with an organization like StartupBus and its nonprofit partners ensures that folks who lack exposure to tech entrepreneurship can develop the skills needed to truly uplift their communities."

    LIsa Chau / Via Private Collection

    (Far right) Oath Software Engineer Mouminatou Barry recalls that the "five day journey allowed me to test my logical and analytical skills by learning blockchain with minimal prior knowledge and assistance. I stayed up weeks before watching documentaries on this new market so I could be comfortable with its jargon and then, during the trip studied hyperledger until 5 am for the first 3 days... Before this trip I still would have been heavy in front-end development but now I can take my coding knowledge to the next platform and build secure and private realities for the future.

    StartupBus is an experience to remember because it’s an extreme entrepreneurial journey; with all the worst possible outcomes like limited wi-if & time. Testing how well could you innovate the future with finite resources. But, all in all, it turns you into a better boss; because bosses are leaders that can get things done no matter the obstacle."

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Many alumni and partner organizations rallied to support the cause, and funded donations to the Diversity Fellowship Program. Sponsors included Veterans Florida, The Knowledge House, The Ocean, ConsenSys, Sourcetoad, WasteBits, Intersect, and more.

    Additionally, DigitalUndivided offered space for a mini-pitch competition in Atlanta. Staff and entrepreneurs-in-residence volunteered as judges.

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Women are severely underrepresented in blockchain leadership. Only 4 to 6 percent of blockchain investors are female, and the North American Bitcoin Conference featured only 3 female speakers among 84 males this year.

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Compared to the predominantly male population of previous buses, approximately 40% of this year’s StartupBus participants were women.

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    “As one of the judges of the StartupBus competition and Pipeline Angel investor, it’s amazing to see how collaborative, resourceful and effective women can be in building businesses, technology, and expert teams that integrate smartly together to address real problems. They solved these real problems with pain-killers that customers are willing to pay to solve, instead of vitamins that are just nice to have / bells & whistles, but not essential for a buyer. Investors should value how female founders think differently to create new products/services with scalable growth potential through these integrative views and real problem solving," said Grace Lee, CEO of Health Enovation, Inc (business design and technology advisory consulting) and CEO of WishPoints (AI and Blockchain for customer intent and demand aggregator).

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    2016-2017 AARP Innovation & Enterprise Strategy Fellow and 2017-2018 PBS NextAvenue Top 50 Influencer in Aging Amanda Cavaleri said, "The StartupBus is a pressure cooker on wheels that forced our group to grow and not get stuck in the unimportant details of conceptualizing a business. The reason I joined the bus was to dig into blockchain use cases, but I gained much more in building invaluable relationships with capable, driven entrepreneurs - who happen to be female. Beyond enjoying being a mentor on a personal level, I was thrilled to see the caliber of problems these women explored, ranging from dementia and sex trafficking to student loan debt and the health records - of a woman's best friend (feline or canine)."

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    If we were awake, we were working! Every night felt like an all-nighter! Yes, we were stocked with cans of Red Bull throughout the trip.

    StartupBus / Via Private Collection

    Our very brief stop at Tocca Falls, Georgia was the one break we allowed ourselves.

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    StartupBus National Director Madelena Mak said, "We understand the power of creating a gender inclusive space that frees its participants from judgment, prejudice, and misogyny that happen often in a conventional male-dominated workplace. It is empowering especially inside the contained setting of a bus because they can all be given chances to step up to become a leader in their own teams. Witnessing a full bus of women and TGNC folks pitching freely and forming teams brings me tears. You don't see or hear these kinds of ideas and team dynamic often in hackathons. I love that the projects have a unique soul and a honorable goal to better the world through social impact.

    I would also like to bring extra attention to the "+" in the way we named our bus. The plus sign symbolizes inclusiveness across the gender spectrum. Very often, people who don't fit in either the female or male brackets get left behind and are denied gender-exclusive experiences. These folks need the same kind of empowerment and freedom from prejudice that cisgender folks need in order to survive in the tech world, and therefore, we believe that it is important that we create a space for all of them to share the complete StartupBus experience.

    It is an ironic victory how StartupBus is now the top search result when you search "TGNC in tech" - We are proud that our efforts are being recognized, though it also shows how rarely served this segment of population is by any tech organizations."

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Robert Blacklidge was a 2017 bustrepreneur, and served as a co-Conductor for the Florida bus this year. He said, "I started my company Course Align during last year's competition, and it now boasts 14 employees. There is no place on earth where there is more intentional serendipity from theses pursuits than on a StartupBus. Entrepreneurship mindset is the persistent pursuit of passion."

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Judges gonna judge. On the left, StartupBus Founder Elias Bizannes weighs in.

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    (Far left) Turner Sports Marketing Coordinator Deja White flew in from Atlanta to join the New York bus. She said, "I loved this experience because I had the opportunity to connect with people from all different backgrounds. They all brought something to the table, and overall our bus was a success because of the issues we committed to tackling. I'm glad my introduction to Startup Bus was the first ever Women+ in Blockchain Bus."

    (Second from the left) Julia Farber said, "Startup Bus was an intense and entertaining experience where I made amazing friends and pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. Highly recommend it."

    (Second from the right) Stephanie Vaughan said, “My trip was important because it helped me connect with expert women across multiple industries, coming together to solve unique problems. I have gained friends across all industries and disciplines. StartupBus offered more than I could have imagined, I have made multiple connections with friends and future business partners.”

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    I am so happy that my team at Lampix recognizes how important it is to support the community, and how much I would benefit from this trip.

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Most importantly, I am grateful for the new friends I made during the trip, including Miami-based Stephanie Nickolich (center) and Amanda Cavaleri.

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Awww... :)

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    The night before I published this story, I attended the MBYS Platform Launch Party at Bushwick Generator, home of the Bushwick Blockchain Alliance. There, I ran into Shannon Nagaoka -- It was our second unplanned meeting since our shared StartupBus adventure. Our first unplanned meeting took place at the the Williamsburg Hotel during Party On The Block to kickoff Blockchain Week 2018 with Byzantine, Futurism, Startup Grind, Dispatch Labs, Futurism, Blockchain for Good, 25 Kent and the Bushwick Generator.

    I love running into StartupBus alumni!

    Asked about her experience months later, she recalls, "As you can imagine, hacking on a stuffy bus with a group of strangers to launch an actual startup in only three days provided abundant roadblocks. From spotty WiFi, motion sickness to temperamental hackers, challenging team dynamics and the general expected stress of a hackathon (i.e. competitive pressure to launch a product in 72 hours), it was the ultimate test on our abilities to collaborate, keep calm and execute!

    But despite how difficult the trip got — program miscommunication, hidden agenda, travel logistics falling through — I still value the experience as I got to learn a lot about myself and my limitations. Working with women I’ve never met, I quickly learned the different communication and work styles of our team and adjusted. With an experienced entrepreneur to handle business development, domain expert to refine our pitch, and a UX designer and developer to build, I adapted and took on the role of project/product managing to ensure our product-market fit while pitching in on marketing and development. My main objective was to prioritize our team’s limited resources to build a realistic prototype within 72 hours that satisfied the competition’s requirements yet still solved our target customer’s main problem.

    In the end, our team PetFolio got through rounds of pitch competitions, technical review, and placed second in the competition! We were able to get some traction of aligning a few B2B partnerships, approximately 400 email signups and a working prototype despite how difficult it was to code. (We only learned blockchain development that week!) It was a validating experience to see what we were able to accomplish personally and technically, and I am very proud of our efforts.

    This was truly a unique experience — no other hackathon like it! You'd be surprised at what a bus of determined women can accomplish in just 72 hours."

    Lisa Chau / Via Private Collection

    Stay tuned for more of my adventures! :) #HelloHighlights

    Grace Lee / Via Private Collection
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