A bevy of startups and tech players will descend on Austin, Texas, three weeks from today to pitch their company to ad executives at South by Southwest Interactive. PayPal plans to help those aspiring entrepreneurs stand out—specifically with the chance of meeting Daymond John from ABC's Shark Tank and winning $30,000 in funds.
Earlier this year, PayPal marketers and John reviewed businesses around the United States that use PayPal for transactions. They then narrowed their list down to six finalists, favoring eye-catching business models and interesting hometowns from different areas of the country.
For example, New York-based startup Earhoox is a finalist and sells silicon molds that keep headphones in place. And Prynt—a smartphone case that doubles as a Polaroid-styled photo printer—also made the cut and hails from San Francisco.
The digital public will have the next say in which startup ultimately prevails, and online voting is open through Feb. 28. Two semi-finalists will be announced on March 2, when they'll be awarded airfare and SXSW tickets to pitch their business to John in person. He will then choose a winner, who will receive a pair of one-on-one consultations with John as well as the aforementioned $30,000.
"This year, we decided to take a step back and see what we can do to really elevate some of our great small business merchants in the U.S. and do something a little bit more interactive," said Pablo Rodriguez, global head of consumer initiatives at PayPal.
The endeavor also marks PayPal's third consecutive year in which it will have activations at the tech festival. In addition to the contest, PayPal will bring back its social media lounge, which includes a coffee bar, a demo section showing off the payment company's products and work stations. Rodriguez said the point of the social lounge is to keep conversations going after SXSW ends.
"A lot of this is also opportunities for long-term partnerships—we're really about feeding those relationships," he said.