At SXSW, It Takes a Village of Startups

BY SUSAN LAHEY
Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News
Take the energy of SXSW, multiply it by the energy of thousands of passionate start up founders, compound it by a factor of anxiety at being judged and you’ve got the fourth floor of the Hilton Hotel in down town Austin: Startup Village.
This is the first time SXSW has created a special area just for startups, according to Chris Valentine, event producer for Startup Village and Microsoft Bizspark Accelerator. But once it was proposed, it seemed so obvious. So intuitive.
“The response has been overwhelming. The hallways are just packed with people,” Valentine said. “People keep saying ‘This is a great idea, you guys should have been doing it years ago.’”
SXSW organizers wanted to create a base where startup participants could find programs created just for them—like cofounder speed dating and presentations on creating elevator pitches. The salons include mentoring opportunities for startups. And, Valentine pointed out, accelerator judges are roaming the halls, easily accessible to any entrepreneur. People like Arun Rajan of Zappos, Adam Ostrow of Mashable and Blair Garrou of DFJMercury.
There are startup focused events like The Startup Bus in which participants got on busses in their native towns and had to create a startup between home and Austin, then the teams were judged. Locastartups have the opportunity to mingle with people from startups all over the world. And to see how so many startup communities pale in comparison.
Nick Goggans, co-founder of Umbel, having had a startup in Boston, fell for Austin at an SXSW event three years ago.
“I was inspired by the quality of the companies I met when I was here three years ago for a SXSW event with my Boston startup,” he said. He likes that Austin is central, easily accessible. He also thinks it has an underrated talent pool and a burgeoning angel community. Moreover, the cost of living allows for bootstrapping.
Bill Boebel, former vice president of strategy at Rackspace and advisor to the Capital Factory said he had his first startup in Virginia.
“Austin is a little more balanced than most cities,” he said. “It’s a great family town, too. I love the diversity. It’s a great place to build a company and a family at the same time. If your spouse isn’t into tech, that’s okay.”
Cesar Donofrio, CEO of Making Sense in San Antonio said “We receive a lot of help from local people. There’s a great amount of information. You can talk with people in the same environment so you can validate your experiences. And there are a lot of resources like incubators and accelerators so you get a lot of support.”
He acknowledged that the “Fail faster” that accepts failure on the way to success is stronger here than in other places, such as his native Argentina.
Kevin Callahan, co-founder of MapMyFITNESS, said he and his cofounders love Austin because of the talent pool and also because of the fitness conscious culture here.
Many of the startups present are high tech in nature. But the varieties of startup presentations continue to grow and diversify, Valentine said. Things like food, art, and music all can have technological components and are represented at the event.
Which brings another cool aspect to the SXSW Startup Village. One participant who lives in Russia asked: Why Austin? Why not New York? Paris? Tokyo.
And the answer, Goggans said, is that it happened here. Organically, SXSW Interactive and Startup Village grew out of a culture where there was music and film that blended easily into technology.
“There was a core film and music environment that manifests into technology over time,” Goggans said. “I don’t think that’s something that can just be dropped into a place. It’s organic. It has to do with a multidisciplinary approach…it’s a question of ‘how strong is your creative community?’”
On the fourth floor, it’s very creative.
“Basically different types of event producers’ response was ‘This is finally happening!’” Valentine said of Startup Village. “That’s one of the great things about an idea that’s so easy. It was like ‘Of course.’”

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