April 03, 2015, BY Heather Johns

Robbie Johnson '16 and Cameron James '16 represented Bucknell and Loco Labs
Robbie Johnson '16 and Cameron James '16 represented Bucknell and Loco Labs in the finals of Student Startup Madness.

March was definitely full of tournament madness for Bucknell, but not because of the NCAA. 

Three teams of Bucknell students reached the top 64 in Student Startup Madness 2015 (SSM), a nationwide tournament for college student digital media startups culminating in the finals at South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive on March 16.

Bucknell took two spots in the round of 32, but only one team reached the "entrepreneurial eight" and earned a trip to SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Loco Labs — aka Cameron James '16, Robbie Johnson '16 and Li Li '16 — are the Bucknell brains behind Loco, a mobile app on iOS for local communities to anonymously post relevant information in their areas.

"Loco differs from other apps due to a strong focus on relevant content for our users in their immediate area," explained James, an accounting and financial management major. "The market is cluttered with many location-based apps that do not foster relevant content for their users, and Loco fills this void."

Alongside teams from Cornell University, Georgia State University, Michigan State University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and University of Washington in Tacoma, the Bucknell team pitched their venture to a judging panel of entrepreneurs, investors and technologists at SXSW.

"Pitching at the competition was a unique experience, and opened doors for us to many professionals in various industries as well as rising star entrepreneurs," said James. "We learned so much in the short time we were there."

"The greatest takeaway for me was the ability to be immersed in the startup culture, surrounded by some of the most innovative and ambitious minds in tech," agreed Johnson. "The exposure from the event and the feedback that we received from proven pros in the industry has been, and will continue to be invaluable in solidifying our vision as a company and distinguishing ourselves as a legitimate business with incredible potential."

Entrepreneurial spirit
While in Austin, James and Johnson, a computer science & engineering major, had the opportunity to meet with Andrew Bell '12, co-founder of BrewDrop. "He gave us some awesome advice for success in the startup world and what it takes to run your own company," said James.

In fact, a growing number of students are flexing their entrepreneurial muscles while at Bucknell. "Seeing three teams from Bucknell selected for this bracket, out of more than 150 entries nationwide, provides a high level of validation for entrepreneurship at Bucknell," said Steven Stumbris, director of Bucknell's Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The BizPitch competition whetted Loco Labs' appetite for pitching success last semester — along with the other two Bucknell teams represented in SSM.

"Bucknell's BizPitch was our first pitch experience," said James. "It was a great first step toward perfecting our pitch and becoming comfortable on the big stage."

The young company was named Social Media Star of the competition. "What we took away from the competition that has helped us the most is our membership at the Bucknell University Entrepreneurs Incubator," said James.

"Having Loco Labs and other student startups in the incubator side-by-side with firms from the area is an amazing way to bring innovators from campus and the community together," said Stumbris.

Bright future
Loco Labs didn't take home the ultimate SSM prize, though their tournament run did garner some attention from Inc. Magazine, which named Loco Labs one of the Coolest College Startups of 2015.

But the young entrepreneurs have their eyes trained on the future.

"Entrepreneurship, for us, is a way to make our own mark on the world," said Johnson. "It allows us to create freely in an environment where the only constraints are those we put on ourselves​​."