It’s Time for Austin to Become “Startup Capital of the World”

Dave Manzer, courtesy photo.

Dave Manzer, courtesy photo.

By DAVE MANZER
Sponsored Contribution to Silicon Hills News

Many are familiar with Austin’s official slogan: “Live Music Capital of the World.” The city officially adopted the slogan in 1991 after it was discovered that Austin had more live music venues per capita than any other city in America.

In a bit of marketing hocus pocus, the city council seized on the idea of making Austin the live music capital of the world, not just America. It turned out to be a brilliant move. Much like a business does with a tagline and vision statement, Austin hoped its new slogan would make it a destination for live music the world over.

Austin rocks

Notwithstanding recent news about Austin’s loss of some high-profile live music venues, Austin has indeed attained a special place in the world music scene. Austin City Limits has become the longest running music series in American TV history. What’s more, it continues to attracts top music acts from around the world for Austinites to enjoy even as it cruises into its 42nd season.

Live music is still alive and well, thanks in no small part to ACL Fest and SXSW, which bookend the live music festival scene and have made Austin a household name for music lovers the world over. The bottom-line has been impressive, too, with annual revenue generated by the music industry now approaching $2 billion. In short, it’s hard to argue that Austin’s marketing strategy has not paid huge economic and brand awareness dividends for the city.

With that branding coup under its belt, Austin now has a unique opportunity to do for startups what it did for music.

But wait, Austin already has a vibrant, high-octane startup ecosystem, right? Why should we muck it up with an Austin City Council vote on a slogan?

Because when private and public visions merge there is an even greater awareness of the need to help the industry prosper, and when an industry prospers the city benefits with more jobs and highly localized spending.

Because when the city council declared Austin “Live Music Capital of the World” the slogan was used in all of its promotions and gradually became part of the city’s mystique.

Because even though Austin is a startup hotbed it still needs to establish a more sustainable startup culture in the form of more venture capital and angel investors with an appetite for risk and startups that make it to the IPO stage.

Startup reality check

Indeed, the Austin startup scene is far from perfect. It still lags Silicon Valley and New York City in terms of VC activity. Our average deal size tends to be far smaller than other markets, which forces many of our startups to pump the brakes on the kind of growth many tech startups on both coasts are known for.

Fewer and smaller investments also bring a host of economic challenges that impact many industries that exist to support the startup ecosystem. Finally, many startups either flame out or get acquired. Not that we should blame hard-working entrepreneurs for wanting to cash out at some point; it’s their economic prerogative. But if more local startups grew and matured into larger enterprises – think Dell or Whole Foods – then the entire startup ecosystem would be much richer for it.

So can a simple slogan really make a difference? Do we really think we can compete with Silicon Valley?

Trying to become the next Silicon Valley misses the point. Just look back again at the music scene in Austin. By adopting the Live Music Capital of the World brand, nobody ever expected that Austin would actually eclipse LA, NYC or even Nashville as a center for the music recording industry. What Austin did do, however, was establish a target for the city to become an epicenter of live musical performances. It’s hard to say the city hasn’t accomplished much of that objective from what amounted to a very humble beginning.

Austin tops the list

Why shouldn’t Austin claim to be Startup Capital of the World? We do startups well here. In fact, back in August Forbes declared that for the second year in a row (based on a Kaufman Foundation study) Austin is #1 on the list of America’s top 40 metro areas for startups.

For those who have been in Austin long that Forbes ranking comes as no surprise. We excel at collaboration and launching low cost startups, perhaps better than any other city of our size. We have resources of all kinds – public and private – to support the risk-takers and trailblazers. We have an incredibly vibrant food startup community from new food trucks and restaurants to craft liquor distillers and cold brew coffee makers. You can’t throw a stone in Austin these days without hitting startup professionals hard at work in coffee shops, tech accelerators and coworking spaces (see the Austin’s Startup over Coffee map).

Let’s not forget that Austin is home to the world’s preeminent tech startup festival in SXSW Interactive. Every year over 30,000 the world’s leading tech luminaries, aspiring startups and tech professionals converge on the Austin Convention Center to learn, share and network. SXSWi is where the tech world comes to discover hot new trends and break-out brands all the while enjoying a carnival-like atmosphere of parties where attendees can enjoy some VR, AR or AI with generous amounts of tacos and beer.

We also have many of the things that startup professionals value: a vibrant downtown full of great restaurants, coffee shops, hiking and biking paths, water sports and watering holes, great educational institutions like UT, ACC and St. Edward’s University. And, of course, we are the Live Music Capital of the World.

It’s our time!

It’s undeniable. The world really does look to Austin for inspiration when it comes to its live music scene. Why shouldn’t we show the rest of the world how Austin does startups?

Whether we adopt an official slogan or just a symbolic tagline for a city-wide call-to-action matters little. Austin’s startup growth has been astonishing thus far, but nothing lasts forever without careful nurturing. We can use our existing startup ecosystem — one of the richest in the U.S. — to become a beacon for startups from around the world. Austin can, in turn, benefit from the talent of international startup professionals to enrich and diversify its startup scene.

It’s time for Austin to become “Startup Capital of the World.”

Dave is the president of Manzer Communications. With offices in Austin and Denver, Manzer Communications is a marketing communications and PR agency serving technology startups and fast-growth enterprises with offices in Austin and Denver. Dave founded PR over Coffee, is a mentor at Startup Aggieland and just launched Startup over Coffee, a crowdsourced map for startups and startup professionals in Austin.

This is a sponsored post.

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