Three startup founders just got a bump from Richard Branson and angel investor Bill Tai.
The startups got to travel to Necker Island, Branson’s 74-acre Caribbean retreat, as finalists in the Extreme Tech Challenge, a startup competition led by MaiTai Global.
MaiTai Global is “a group of extraordinary entrepreneurs, innovators, and athletes” founded by Tai and kiteboarder Susi Mai.
Thousands of startups applied for the chance to pitch Branson and a panel of judges that also included Google Maps cofounder Lars Rasmussen and Samsung Electronics president Young Sohn.
A select group presented their businesses at CES in January. Of that group, three were chosen to head to Necker during the first week of February: smartphone breathalyzer company Breathometer, medical app Doctor on Demand, and bus travel search site Wanderu.
The startups spent two days on Necker, networking with the panel members and enjoying the sun.
“It was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had,” Wanderu cofounder Polina Raygorodskaya said to Business Insider.
Wanderu aggregates booking sites for train and bus networks, making it easy to make travel arrangements in one place. The startup originally started its desktop site in August 2013, but it just launched its iOS app this week.
“To me, Branson is someone I’ve always looked up to, especially as someone in the transportation space,” Raygorodskaya said. “He’s disrupted so many industries in transportation, and he was really excited about what we’re doing.”
Branson hasn’t invested in Wanderu yet, but Raygorodskaya said the weekend gave them plenty of opportunities to network.
“We’re not in the process of raising a round, but there was a lot of interest after the presentation,” she said. “We definitely built some important connections.”
The startups certainly had some fun, too. The Wanderu team rented a catamaran for the week, and they got lots of time to enjoy the accommodations on Necker.
The Great House, which people can rent for a whopping $US60,000 a night, has eight bedrooms and a zip line that can bring you down to the beach below.
The house looks amazing.
The crew also took some time to kiteboard, one of Tai and Branson’s favourite hobbies.