By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
“Getting tech organized has been crazy difficult,” Huls said. “It’s not in an entrepreneur’s makeup to be a joiner. It took awhile to understand how to get everyone pointed in the same direction. How to get everyone engaged. The way we finally figured out to do it was to ask ‘Don’t you guys want to be involved in making investment decisions about how money is going to be allocated to resources…?’ It’s time for us to articulate a new vision.”
While much of Huls’ talk, at Startup Grind Austin at Capital Factory, referenced vague “high level conversations” ATC was having with “C-Suite Executives,” she did give some concrete insights as to the direction ATC will be pushing in coming years.
9,000 jobs by 2027
One of the biggest needs, locally, is for people with high-level technical skills. In the next 10 years, she said, tech-related jobs are projected to increase by 9,000. Most executives would prefer a “grow your own” approach, recruiting people out of the University of Texas and other area universities and tech programs. But, for one thing, there aren’t enough highly skilled people coming out of those programs to meet the demand, Huls said. So recruiting from other regions will be crucial. Secondly, she said, many Austin graduates are being recruited by companies on the coasts and they jump on the chance for an adventure and a higher paycheck. The good news is, many of them return to Austin after a few years.
ATC, she said, was started by some heavy hitters like Pike Powers and Laura Kilcrease. But there “hasn’t been a very clear roadmap for growth and success. My concern is that if we don’t articulate that and create that map ourselves, we lose our competitive edge.”
“My hope is that Austin can do a better job of branding Austin tech,” Huls said. “We’re about 20 years out of date. There are lots of people who still believe that Austin is still about (semiconductor) chips and we kind of haven’t been all about that for quite some time. Our Austin tech brand is not current.”
In fact, Austin’s tech is very diverse, a reality that has to be communicated to the world. She also weighed in on other issues people identify as problems in Austin’s tech growth.
“I’ve reversed my position on the need for capital,” Huls said. At this point, she said, organizations like CTAN and investors from both within and without Austin are providing ample capital. Capital’s not a big issue. Scaleability has been an issue, in terms of entrepreneurs building great small companies and then selling them rather than growing them to be strong elements of the local economy. But, Huls said, Austin is at a tipping point with that, as evidenced by IPO activity in the last year or two.
“We have some awesome executives who stay here after they make it big…mentoring informally or formally. What I hear from investors is that Austin entrepreneurs need help with some of the fundamentals like business development skills and pitch skills.”
Getting the Word Out About Austin Tech
To that end, she said, ATC is actively seeking executives, investors and tech leaders who want to help foster growth in the community, whether that’s volunteering on a think tank or visiting a school to inspire kids toward STEM education.
“We’re not doing enough,” Huls said. “We’ve been on the top of every list for the past five or ten years but that’s not going to last forever. We’re taking for granted the amazing array of assets we have here…we have real assets that are marketable and make us truly competitive. We’re not doing enough to get that information out there nationally.”
Huls, who studied marketing and communications, became president and CEO of ATC in 2009, chosen for her ability to build a bridge between what was happening in the tech world and the rest of Austin.
Next month’s Startup Grind on September 23 will feature Erine Gray, CEO of Aunt Bertha. Organizer Andi Gillentine said the group has features thought leaders and investors over recent months but will head into the fall with a series of entrepreneurial CEOs and founders.