- March 18, 2018
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SXSW started out the right way – with the Austin Technology Council’s Gateway event on Thursday night: pick up badge, attend a great networking event. It’s always gratifying to get to reconnect with former coworkers who are now running their own companies – people we rarely get to catch up with. There’s a buzz and a positive energy in Austin startup land at the moment. Business is good. There are cranes in the sky in every direction – so much so that it barely makes the news anymore when a new building is going up. In fact, there’s a new skyscraper going up – the Independent – that is now visibly reshaping the skyline – and yet it is already destined to be surpassed by another building in a few years.
In keeping with that Austin energy, the new Fairmont hotel was partially opened for SXSW. It’s a beautiful new property on 1st and Red River streets, right across from the Convention Center (and even features a sky walk to the convention center to stay above street level). Carpets include Austin place-names in the weave.
Branding and Marketing sessions moved from the old Hyatt Regency across the lake into the Fairmont – a big upgrade (from a location point of view, and likely from a point of view of venue).
There were blog posts and concerns that agencies were pulling back on activations (events) at SXSW. First of all, SXSW isn’t all about the activations. Secondly, the activations were impressive. There was the Ready Player One exhibit – where they took over Brazos Hall and turned it into an imitation of a “Stack” from the movie – replete with trailers.
And there was the West World activation – where they rented a nearby town to put a very immersive West World experience together – which generated quite a few articles and photos! And also here… It was really impressive.
And let’s not forget that there are a thousand smaller things going on at SXSW – like the Brasil art exhibit outside the convention center that was two stories tall:
The Future of Capitalism
A session featuring Austin luminaries was a session “The Future of Capitalism and Everything Else” – just shows the kind of energy in Austin – in which the panel primarily addressed conscious capitalism and the B-corp (https://schedule.sxsw.com/2018/events/PP99673). The panel included Brett Hurt, currently working on his 6th business, data.world; Kesha Cash of Impact America Fund (a “social activist that understands finance”), John Mackey of Wholefoods (Amazon), and moderator Jay Gilbert.
It was an interesting discussion about how capitalism has lifted billions out of poverty, and that the system, basically, works. John Mackey points out that while it works, people don’t compare to history, they compare to the ideal model – and critique the ways we don’t meet expectations. He referred to business as the greatest force for good on the planet- and it could be better!
It was a really nuanced conversation about the B-Corp, ethics, social responsibility, and economics. My favorite line was from John Mackey, paraphrased: “you have to breathe to live, but it isn’t your purpose in life to breathe. In business, you have to make money to survive, but that doesn’t mean it is your purpose in business.”
The Entrepreneur’s Lounge
Also known as the Meat-up because it is held on the roof-deck of Fogo de Chao every year, the Entrepreneur’s Lounge was previously run by Laura Beck but this year by Red Velvet Events. Laura did such a great job cultivating this event over the years – it has long been a little oasis away from the craziness of a conference with 70,000 people. Red Velvet Events has continued the tradition and once again we had great networking opportunities with entrepreneurs from all over the world. Thanks to all the sponsors for making it happen!
Texas and Startups
Joshua Baer’s “Texas Manifesto” session was right in line with the energy. In that session, Josh makes the case that Texas is where the action is – and then makes the case for each city:
- 11th largest city in the USA
- University of Texas has one of the largest computer science graduating classes each year.
- The new Dell Medical School is up and running
- Open Question: Did SXSW make Austin a great startup city, or did startups make SXSW great?
- One of the biggest private equity funds in the world is based in Austin: Vista Equity, along with HQ for Dell, Wholefoods, Silicon Labs, Cirrus Logic, Indeed.
- A large corporate campus for many others: Apple’s second biggest office, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Atlassian all have large presence here.
- Access to accelerators and startups
- 9th largest city in the USA
- UT Dallas campus, among others
- Retail, sports, entertainment, finance
- Lots of family investment offices, and a lot of private income and wealth.
- 23 Fortune 500 companies are based in Dallas, including AT&T, Exxon, Texas Instruments, etc.
- Also has some great accelerators
- 4th largest city in the USA
- Most diverse city in the country by some measures (25% international?)
- Texas Medical Center and MD Anderson
- Rice University (A&M nearby)
- 25 Fortune 500 companies HQ in Houston
- Station Houston, Alice, TMCx, HAN
- 7th largest city in the USA
- UT San Antonio, Trinity University, etc.
- 4 military bases
- Cyber security
- USAA, Rackspace, etc.
- Great conference and tourism location
Some great exits in Austin:
- Indeed, sold to Recruit for $1B – and now by all accounts it is much bigger than it was at sale time
- WP Engine just recently raised $250M
- HomeAway sold to Expedia for a few billion after going public
- Wholefoods sold to Amazon for $13B
- Sailpoint – public
The future of Texas is more: more talent, more startups, more corporate headquarters. More international connectivity – and flights. More investment dollars. More transportation options. It’s kind of amazing that 4 of the top 11 cities in the US are now in Texas (with Austin growing the fastest of the four, within range behind #10 – San Jose).
Josh’s thesis is that investors go where startups are. Startups go where the talent is. Lots of talent is moving to Texas, and has been for many years.