By Jonathan ‘Yoni’ Frenkel
South By Southwest, which takes place in Austin every March, is still a leading technology and cultural experience.
Although the festival has grown over the years to include new tracks, many of the participants who attend SXSW Interactive (with or without a festival badge), do so to network, reconnect with colleagues, and sometimes listen to a panel or two.
With marketing budgets being cut due to economic conditions, this year’s festival was not as busy as years prior, and many of the organizations attending scaled down their activity. Less, and lower key, along with a smaller number of attendees was noticeable during the week.
Many of the conversations at Interactive (the tech track of the festival), revolved around the bewilderment due to the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, and what the immediate future will hold for investors and startups, some of whom were attending the festival.
At SXSW there was a focus on, and celebration of, founders of color, female founders and diverse groups at the forefront of changing the tech industry. Regarding her SXSW experience, Elisa Sepulveda, partner at Angel Ventures US, (of Mexico City-based Angel Ventures) stated via email that:
“This is my 12th SXSW, second as an investor, first as an emerging fund manager raising a venture capital fund. I spent time during the festival running from event to event to speak and gain exposure to founders, other fund managers, LPs, and ecosystem leaders. There are always many competing events and many of them are invite only so it’s important to be flexible in your schedule in order to make room for the serendipity of the experience. SXSW is an excellent place to meet founders, other VCs, and ecosystem leaders.”
Attending SXSW helped her develop relationships for her fund. The fund is expanding its footprint to target Latinos in the United States as a result of the market opportunity due to Latinx entrepreneurs receiving only 2% of available venture capital, and being 2x less likely to secure venture funding.
Brand experiences and networking
Local organizers showed up with a strong presence to support the ecosystem.
Austin-based connector Marc Nathan of law firm Egan Nelson, and one of the organizers of Funded House, a curated setting which helped startup leaders navigate growth by facilitating conversations with investors, remarked via email that:
“SXSW offers an opportunity for early-stage founders, investors, and ecosystem partners to connect in a pressure-free setting, which is a recipe for serendipity. Despite everything that is happening with the economy these days, everyone attending made the best of the situation, and used it as an opportunity to build authentic connections, which are the bedrock of any solid business collaboration.”
The festival still presents the best economic development opportunity for countries, cities and regions to present their flavor to an engaged audience as well as promote their startup ecosystems. Experiences like Midwest House and Tulsa House (which was particularly busy) on Rainy Street, as well as Canada House and German Haus provided an authentic regional experience for festival attendees.
Others chose to collaborate for exposure such as Montenegro-based Digital Den Hub and Innovation Bridge Europe which is headquartered out of Germany, with local organizers such as Funded House.
SXSW will evolve as a festival as technology continues to shape culture. The festival is still relevant, but with Gen Z’s habits around in-person experiences, changing attitudes toward alcohol consumption, and the next generation’s preference for newer and different experiences, the question is how this conference will continue to draw attendees.
Ultimately, with a SXSW festival badge or not, professionals in tech, creative industries and corporate America come to Austin to network, serendipitously connect and experience this festival.
Jonathan ‘Yoni’ Frenkel is founder of YKC Media, an agency which works with VCs, corporate executives and startup founders. He is a frequent contributor for Crunchbase News.
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