By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Sixteen startup teams competed but SpareFoot triumphed, winning more games than any other startup team and receiving a check for $23,000 to go to Kure It, an organization that funds cancer research. Uship took second place and Capital Factory won the third place trophy.
The top three teams win the biggest part of the pot, which this year was close to $60,000, according to Gillian Wilson, co-founder and president of the games and senior manager of human resources for UShip. But every charity chosen by the various teams will receive some money.
Originally, the games started as a friendly challenge, said Shawn Bose, vice president and general manager of global business for UShip.
Several friends from different startups were “all out one night and it was like ‘We could beat you at beer pong….’” Bose said. Soon, the idea had ballooned to include eight startups and raising money for charity.
“You hear all these stories about cutthroat behavior in the valley and in New York,” he said, “here in Austin we have this great community, this culture of helping each other.”
Bose said he’d known of people who came to the event last year just to network and wound up working at one of the competing startups. He liked to imagine that there might be people hatching an idea for a new startup in the midst of the event, standing at the foosball table, or playing darts.
Last year, John Egan, now editor in chief at SpareFoot, was getting ready for his Monday job interview with the company when he attended the Startup Olympics.
“I think it’s a great event because it brings a lot of startups together that might not otherwise come together and it raises a lot of money for great charities.”
The founders have a rule that only startups can participate, meaning that a large company—like RetailMeNot—isn’t eligible to participate. But Bose said that didn’t stop the company from being one of the event’s biggest sponsors. Capital Factory had its own team of startups whose numbers were too small to form their own teams. Many teams wore costumes ranging from team t-shirts to togas and laurel wreaths, giant inflated body suits and hair-band attire.
Every year, there’s a mystery competition that is unveiled at the end of the day. The first year it was a bouncy castle, last year it was a mechanical bull, and this year it was a labyrinth the “athletes” had to navigate blindfolded.
The first year the event raised $3,000 for charity and has grown exponentially ever since. At some point, Bose and Wilson said, they’d like to see other cities adopt the event and possibly hold national or even global competition during SXSW.