The founders of SXSW got the idea for the event from New Music Seminar or NMS, a New York-based music festival in the mid-80s.

NMS always featured many Austin-based bands, said Hugh Forrest, Co-President and Chief Programming Officer of SXSW. After a plan to organize NMS South in Austin fell through, the four founders created South by Southwest during Spring Break of 1987. They picked that week in March because it was the slowest week of the year for the music venue.

It started with just 700 people. Today, SXSW has 60,000 badge holders and hundreds of thousands of consumers.

Forrest started the discussion Thursday afternoon at Austin Startup Week on “Why & How Startups Rock SXSW” by providing a “very brief look at the SXSW origin story.”

“I love telling the SXSW origin story, particularly when talking to startups,” Forrest said. “As with a lot of origin stories, SXSW happened more by coincidence than by design.”

The big takeaway from SXSW is that entrepreneurs turn trash into treasures, Forrest said. He said there’s a lot to learn from SXSW’s origin story.

“Find something that everyone has overlooked and create intense value,” Forrest said. “Or find an idea that no one has thought of before and create intense value. Or execute on a great idea that no one has executed on effectively before.”

The key is to “persist, persist, and then persist even more – and don’t take no for an answer,” Forrest said.

The four founders of SXSW were Roland Swenson, Louis Jay Meyers, Louis Black, and Nick Barbaro.

“These four SXSW founders paved the way for so much more March entrepreneurism,” Forrest said,

Among the great entrepreneurs to emerge from SXSW, Forrest included Johnny Cash in 1994,  

Foster the People in 2011, Billie Eilish in 2017, Grimes in 2012, and other musicians.

Another takeaway from SXSW is that entrepreneurs are rockstars and vice versa, Forrest said.

There are a lot of similarities between entrepreneurs and musicians, and that’s why SXSW has survived for so long, Forrest said.

“SXSW always focuses on Creativity, authenticity, originality, and innovative ideas,” Forrest said. Those are the traits and characteristics that define successful SXSW bands and startups, he said. Forrest said they want to be on the same stage and intermingle at SXSW. He also encouraged everyone to reconsider and broaden their idea of what an entrepreneur is today.

“What can you learn from other creative types that will help you as a startup,” Forrest asked. The mission of SXSW is to help creative people achieve their goals, he said.

The event has attracted big names like President Barrack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden through the years. It has also been a launching pad for companies like Twitter, Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Workweek, Meerkat, ICON, and others.

At SXSW, entrepreneurs are even more critical than celebrities, Forrest said.

Chris Valentine, event manager for the SXSW Pitch competition, gave a quick presentation on the SXSW Pitch competition. Applications for SXSW Pitch are due on Sunday. There’s still time to apply at, Valentine said.

Since 2009, SXSW Pitch has showcased 647 startups, which have raised a combined $23.2 billion in funding. Google, British Telecom, Apple, and others have acquired seven percent of those startups.

SXSW Pitch competition alums include Klout, ICON, Hipmunk, Tubemogul, Siri, Foodspotting, and Tango.

More than 700 startups apply for the SXSW Pitch competition every year, Valentine said. Of those, 45 finalists are selected to compete in nine categories, he said.