By JOHN DAVIDSON
Special Report for Silicon Hills News
NewCo rolled into Austin last week for the inaugural NewCoATX festival.
John Battelle and Brian Monahan founded NewCo in 2012 to “identify, celebrate and connect the engines of positive change in technology.” It seeks to do that through an event experience it describes as “a mash-up of an open-studio tour and a business conference, with the vibe of a music festival.”
NewCoATX kicked off Thursday night with a VIP Welcome Reception with about 200 people, hosted at the expansive new Atlassian headquarters downtown. Battelle, a journalist and entrepreneur whose list of accomplishments include co-founding Wired Magazine and The Web 2.0 Conferences, engaged in a ‘fireside chat’ with Josh Rubin, Executive Producer and Managing Director of The Daily Dot, before a VIP audience. Battelle described the kind of companies that NewCo wishes to partner with as “not companies that have a mission, but companies that are on a mission to inspire positive change.”
Typical NewCo festivals feature sixty host companies. At appointed times throughout the day, each company invites attendees to observe a presentation from a company executive, and provides a behind-the-scenes look, not just at what the company does, but how it does it.
In Austin, participating companies ranged across a broad spectrum of industries. Kari Hernandez, of boutique PR agency Ink PR, discussed how start-ups might recognize when they would benefit from hiring an in-house marketing manager, rather than hiring an agency. Thought leader Andrew Allison, Co-CEO of Main Street Hub, offered a riveting presentation on creating a positive work culture, touching upon how striving to do so has affected his company’s hiring process, and the value to be found in nurturing an environment in which “professional development is a defining characteristic of the company.”
Powerhouse juggernauts such as Google Fiber and Under Armour Connected Fitness hosted sessions. The sessions closed with beer and a frank assessment of the challenges of bootstrapping and the tectonic shifts that occur beneath new company foundations.
“If the timing is right to start a company, start. Because the idea will change anyway,” said Square Root CEO and Founder Chris Taylor.
To attend NewCoATX, it was possible to visit one company without charge, but the remainder of the festival works on a tier system – a Silver Pass ($30) earned you access to unlimited sessions; a Platinum Pass ($150) provided access to unlimited sessions, plus opening and closing VIP events.
So who pays to attend? And what do they hope to discover?
“From a statistical basis,” Battelle told Silicon Hills News, “our database of 15,000 people tells us that their average age is 30, and the average job-title is Director or V-P, upwards. If you look around at the crowd here tonight, you can see that’s consistent with what we’ve been seeing elsewhere. And I think most of them are here to connect with other people in their ecosystem or community. The second reason (they might be here), of course, is because they’re looking for a job.”
The event’s organizers didn’t have precise attendance figures immediately available, but many of the NewCoATX sessions either sold out, or approached capacity. On the day of the festival (Friday, May 29), the weather was remarkably benevolent, given the climate woes of the entire previous week – and road traffic was surprisingly manageable. For some, this may have proved crucial to the logistical success of the event. Those who booked a full schedule of six sessions soon discovered that the half-hour window between sessions left little likelihood of networking and arriving in time for the start of the next session. Doubtless those who exercised a more judicious strategic approach benefited from a less frantic day criss-crossing the city.
Sixteen NewCo affiliate cities exist worldwide, in locations as far-flung as Portland, Ore, and Istanbul, Turkey. The company aims to connect one hundred affiliate cities within the next five years. The next festival takes place in Amsterdam, on June 5.