Wednesday Mar 13, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Contributor, VentureFizz
Local transportation innovation company Wanderu walked away from SXSW’s Interactive Accelerator Competition Tuesday night with a victory in the “Most Innovative Web Technology” category of the event. The startup, which was a MassChallenge finalist in 2012 and is now a part of PayPal’s StartTank Incubator, has created an easier way to search, access, and plan bus and train travel.
Polina Raygorodskaya, Wanderu’s CEO, was surprised to win due to the strong competition in the event and the difficult questions leveled by the panel of judges, which included BoxGroup’s David Tisch, Ray Bradford of KPCB, as well as others.
Wanderu continues a tradition of winning in the event; last year, local companies Funf, Ginger.io, and Viztu Technologies all took home honors. Raygorodskaya was happy to “represent the Boston tech community,” again this year.
Raygorodskaya believes that Wanderu won over the judges because, “What we are building does not currently exist on the market.” She continued, “We are solving a big problem for a big need. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, last year 750 million people traveled by inter-city bus, but, yet, there is no search solution for those people.” The Wanderu founder added, “There’s over a hundred different bus companies, a lot of whom don’t have online ticketing, and to try to figure out your options, availability, and pricing, you’d have to go to a bunch of different websites. The technology is not there for [the online organization of] buses.”
Currently, Wanderu is in beta yet has 65% of coverage for northeast bus companies, and the capability to organize train and bus travel from Maine to Virginia. The startup is also getting ready to begin an angel round of funding. Additionally, Wanderu is actively looking to expand its team and is seeking people that are interested in “building a technology that isn’t out there.”
Raygorodskaya, and fellow Co-Founder Igor Bratnikov, started Wanderu after a complication arose on a cross-country trip that aimed to raise awareness of the National Parks. The former founder of a PR fashion company in New York was part of a team with Bratnikov that planned to draw attention to the country’s natural wonders by using only Rideshare on the journey. After one of the Rideshare drivers failed to show when the team needed to get from Newcastle, Virginia to Indianapolis, Raygorodskaya and Bratnikov decided to try and travel by bus. After spending hours trying to figure out how to do just that, they decided that they had found a problem that they could solve with a new technology.
Raygorodskaya and Bratnikov added tech veteran Eddy Wong, who had been Chief Architect at Open Sesame, as CTO and Wanderu was off and running.
In winning the SXSW Accelerator Competition, the Wanderu team took home some pretty great prizes from Rackspace, Seagate, and Apple; however, Raygorodskaya acknowledge that, “The value is really in the honor of what SXSW stands for.” She said, “They’ve launched some of the biggest companies today including Twitter and Foursquare, and some of the companies that have won the same award as us include Siri and Hipmunk. It is really exciting to be part of that family of some of the best technology companies out there.”
Even after this recent success, Polina and her team are not resting on their laurels. When we spoke early Wednesday morning, the night after their victory, the Wanderu crew was travelling from Austin to Dallas to meet up with some major bus companies to continue expanding their influence on transportation throughout the country.