PUBLISHED BY Bryan Stolle
March 15, 2019
Artificial intelligence stole my crypto! Another SXSW is in the books, and some noticeable trends emerged. Admittedly, my take has selection and exposure bias. SXSW Interactive is so big, it’s really many conferences under one umbrella. Each attendee curates their own experience from thousands of official and unofficial sessions; countless events, mixers and parties; and the scheduled and accidental people one meets over the course of five intense days (assuming you made it through all five days). These are the trends I saw on my journey through the conference.
Without further ado and in no particular order:
- Crypto what? – While blockchain technology is still part of the discussion, crypto seemed to be an afterthought this year.
- AI everywhere – More importantly, the dialogue has moved from broad sweeping discussions to very specific applications of AI. From agriculture, to healthcare, to insurance, to front-office and back-office business processes, to employee and individual productivity, to personal finance, etc., etc., AI is being inserted everywhere, real world applications offering real value and solutions.
- More politics – Conference tracks and keynotes devoted to political discourse, and attendance by notable and less well-known politicians continues to become a bigger part of SXSW content, for better or worse.
- Increasing presence of female entrepreneurs – I found myself coaching and advising more female entrepreneurs or those thinking about it, then ever before. Our firm has always been inclusive in that regard, from female founding partners to numerous female portfolio entrepreneurs and executives, but the numbers continue to rise, and I see more woman open to taking the entrepreneurial plunge. Didn’t hurt that the conference opened on International Women’s Day!
- Back to business – Several years ago, there was a hype spike at SXSW, dominated by self-promotion and a “see and be seen” mentality. This year the vibe was real entrepreneurs building exciting and real businesses, and far fewer “posers.” In particular, the quality of start-ups pitching at the SXSW Accelerator pitch competition continues to get better and better. Certainly the best set of companies I’ve seen as a finalist judge.
- Austin as a startup hub – There is a noticeable increase of new blood in the Austin start-up pool, on both the entrepreneur and VC-side. Many new entrepreneurs with strong backgrounds and ideas, as well as new funds at scales that can make things happen in the ATX startup scene.
Speaking of Austin. While my partners and I have been startup investing in Austin for nearly a decade, it was on a thesis and hope, not existing reality. For perhaps the first time, I finally feel comfortable saying Austin has a real shot at becoming the second U.S. tech hub “at scale”, in the same ballpark as Silicon Valley.
Apple recently announced a $1B Austin campus that will house 15,000 employees. Not to be out-done, Amazon announced their own billion $ Austin campus. Oracle is already doubling the size of its brand-new campus rumored to eventually house 10,000 or more employees. Google is breaking ground on their second skyscraper downtown, while Facebook is seemingly taking up a new floor every month in downtown, as well as an entire 17-story building in north Austin. Even smaller tech firms like Indeed are looking to triple their 1,500 person Austin workforce. And let’s not forget the existing presence of Dell, IBM, AMD, National Instruments and a slew of other semiconductor, hardware and software players.
Add-in the first new medical school at a Tier-1 research university in over half a century, one whose mission is to completely rethink healthcare and healthcare delivery, and the arrival of several global life sciences and healthcare companies moving on to the new medical school campus. And it doesn’t hurt that SXSW, perhaps the world’s largest tech, startup and content conference calls Austin home.
Access to well-educated, trained and experienced tech, scientific and business talent is the lifeblood of a vibrant successful startup ecosystem at Silicon Valley scale, and the tech giants are kindly obliging. Perhaps Austin needs to give SXSW major credit for putting Austin on the tech giants’ world map, and in their plans as a major focus of investment and expansion. The Austin startup community certainly appreciates the attention, investment and influx of talent!
Read the original blog post in Forbes here.