By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
One lucky woman attending the SXSW community meetup in San Antonio knew the answer: Uber, the ridesharing alternative to taxi cabs. That bit of trivia earned her a free badge to attend what has become the country’s hottest technology show.
Last year, nearly 33,000 people attended the show. It featured 2,400 speakers and 1,100 conference sessions. This year, the show takes place from March 13-17th and is expected to be even larger.
Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, gave an overview of the conference and highlighted some of the things that are new for 2015 during a brief presentation at Geekdom’s new events center in San Antonio. About 100 people attended the event Tuesday night.
“Austin is growing like crazy,” Forrest said. “We have a new downtown hotel, the JW Marriott, with 1,000 more sleeping rooms and four more floors of meeting spaces.”
The JW Marriott at Congress and Second Street opens in February. SXSW Interactive will hold its workshops, meetups and longer sessions in the new space. SXSW Style is moving there also. And a new health and education technology expo is going to be at the new hotel.
“A new medical school will be opening in Austin in the fall of 2016,” Forrest said. “Our push into more health programming kind of parallels what is happening in Austin.”
This year, the SXSW job market will also be at the JW Marriott on March 13 and 14, Forrest said.
SXSW has held the Startup Village for the last five years at the Hilton Hotel across from the convention center.
This year, Startup Village doubles in size, Forrest said. It includes the fourth and sixth floors at the Hilton downtown, he said. That’s where the SXSW Accelerator contest will be held, he said.
“Over the last seven years, accelerator finalists have pulled in more than $1.1 billion in funding,” Forrest said. “It’s a great place to check out the future.”
Another new feature this year is SXSW SouthBites, which explores innovations in the food industry. It will be held at the Driskill Hotel and features meetups, mixers and food trucks.
This year’s keynotes speakers are Paola Antonelli of MoMA, Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud, Martine Rothblatt of United Therapeutics, Astro Teller of GoogleX and Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the U.S.
“Some of the top trends we think will come out of SXSW Interactive 2015 – the startup economy continues to boom, this is again reflected in our decision to double the space for startup village,” Forrest said.
SXSW is also seeing a lot of growth in international startup market. In 2014, representatives from 82 countries attended the show.
“We think that number will continue to grow in 2015,” Forrest said.
Innovations in the transportation industry are another trend SXSW Interactive organizers expect to continue to grow. And a third trend is the growing and maturation of the robot industry.
For the first time, SXSW will host a robot petting zoo at the 2015 event.
SXSW Interactive will hold a community meetup at Capital Factory Monday evening.