Fostering Austin’s Global Connections During Austin Startup Week

By LAURA LOREK
Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Fred Schmidt, international director of Capital Factory, at the first Austin Startup Week International Series of Events on Thursday.

Austin made a major push to cultivate relationships with other countries during the first International sessions at Austin Startup Week.
Representatives from Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Pakistan, Ireland and the European Union made presentations at Capital Factory on Thursday.

Capital Factory has had 20 international startups set up operations in Austin, said Fred Schmidt, director of international at Capital Factory. It has two startups from South Africa, a cohort of Pakistani entrepreneurs and its first company was Kahoot! From Norway.

“It continues to grow and everyone loves Austin,” Schmidt said.

A delegation from Angers, France is currently visiting Austin, Schmidt said. A delegation from Austin plans to go to France soon too to continue to cultivate Austin’s sister city relationship with Angers, he said. They have been sister cities since 2011.

The afternoon event during Austin Startup Week featured a series of 5-minute lightning talks from key people in Austin’s community and other countries focused on international outreach.

Austin has a great international reputation as a tech hub, said Adrian Farrell, consul general with the Consulate General of Ireland in Austin.

Ireland is in Austin to foster connections between technology companies that want to expand to the U.S. and U.S. companies that want to set up operations in Ireland, Farrell said. Dell, Dropbox and WPEngine all have operations in Ireland.

“There’s enormous potential for the future,” Farrell said.

GlobalAustin, founded in 1960 at the University of Texas at Austin to welcome international students, has broadened its mission to welcome all kinds of international groups to Austin, said Margie Kidd, its executive director. It’s part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The organization hosts thousands of international visitors in Austin each year and sets up appointments with them to meet with key figures in the technology industry as well as other businesses, media and the University of Texas.

One of the keys to fostering greater ties between Austin and the world has been the South by Southwest Festival in March, said Grover Bynum, who supports the EU and other stakeholders investing in the Austin community. It showcases Austin to an international audience every year, he said.

The SXSW City Summit is headed up by Julie Yost. SXSW is a great place to share ideas, connect with one another and share culture, Yost said.

SXSW promotes a version of global diplomacy, said Peter Lewis, global head of sales and exhibitions at SXSW.

Technologies put people in contact with each other all over the world, Lewis said. But it’s the conversations people have one on one and face to face at SXSW that makes the magic happen, he said.

XSW provides an environment where all kinds of international stakeholders can come together and have conversations outside the more formal context of Washington, D.C., said Jesse Spector, policy officer, Digital Economy & ICT with the EU Delegation to the United States.

This past March, the EU rented out the Palm Door on Sixth Street during SXSW to showcase a group of technology startups it brought over and to host meetings, film screenings, panel discussions and talks and other presentations. It will be doing an even bigger series of events next year at Palm Door on Sixth during SXSW opening weekend, she said.

The European Union is interested in what SXSW is doing in its SXSW City Summit, said Tim Rivera, programs offer with the EU Delegation to the United States.

“Cities are becoming important international actors themselves,” Rivera said. The EU has launched an International Urban Cooperation initiative and is deeply involved in the development of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy to engage with leaders in cities, particularly focused on climate and energy, he said.

“Mayors are really the CEOs of the world today,” Schmidt said.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler does a big job of keeping Austin on the global map, Schmidt said. He showed great leadership in pledging to support the Paris Climate accord after President Donald Trump signaled the U.S. would withdraw from the agreement. More than 350 mayors have signed the Climate Mayors agreement to stay with the Paris Climate accord and protect the world’s environment.

Kevin Koym, a founder of Tech Ranch, wants to drive impact innovation between Austin and its sister cities like Adelaide, Australia. Tech Ranch has worked with entrepreneurs from more than 42 countries.

“Entrepreneurs working together around the world are taking on intractable conditions and solving them with business solutions,” he said.
Kerry O’Connor, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Austin, said she runs a startup within the city. She joined the Austin City government in 2014 and one of the first things she did was she worked with Koym and Tech Ranch to teach the city about the business model canvas. She wanted to know how to implement innovation within the city government.

Austin has committed to be more transparent, more open and more innovative and to focus on homelessness and solve that problem, O’Connor said. Another commitment is to make sure Austin is equitable and to build an equity tool to judge its budget by and to fix the inequities that the city started, O’Connor said.

“My job is to bring technology innovation into government but we cannot leave people behind,” she said. “I refuse, as Chief Innovation Officer, to say this is only about the bright shiny things. It’s actually about a lot of hard work to ensure that the tide rises all boats.”

One of the things the city is doing to engage the tech community and startups to help solve problems is a reverse pitch competition, O’Connor said. Government has access to all the problems and sometimes business doesn’t have access to the problems, she said.

To keep products out of the landfill, the City pitched all the stuff going into the landfills that could be recycled into other goods. The first year, an entrepreneur made granola bars from hops and grains from local breweries. The second year, a startup called Grub Tubs made compost from food scraps and it went on to win Austin’s WeWork Creator Awards competition.

“The idea that your government can’t be innovative is B.S.,” O’Connor said. “Your government is the platform for some companies of the future. Austin, Texas is where it’s going to happen and we’re doing it in partnership with cities around the world.”

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