Recently, I trekked down to Austin, Texas for the 2013 version of the South by Southwest "SXSW" conference and festival. Having been to Austin before I already knew what to expect from the city. Great downtown, food and culture. After all, Austin is the fastest growing city in the United States. Needless to say, I am a big fan. However, this was my first trip to Austin for South by. I went down to cover the SXSW Interactive session for the radio show I host the Entrepreneur KC Show. This is an experience I will never forget.
The portion of the SXSW event now known as "Interactive" has been going on since 1994. In 2012, 24,569 of 60,047 badged conference registrants and attendees participated in this portion of the event. The others come down for the music and film portions of the festival. In 2012, the total number of attendees of all sanctioned SXSW events was over 300,000 adding 190 million dollars to the Austin economy through direct, indirect and induced impact. In 2013, the growth of registrants for the Interactive portion of SXSW was set to go up by 5 to 8 percent. These numbers don't include all the unbadged individuals who come down for the networking, parties and events. Incredible numbers especially for startups, tech evangelists and entrepreneurs who are hoping to connect to key thought leaders in their industries.
One of the most fascinating parts of SXSW is the large amount of session options for badged participants. In one two-hour time period at the Austin Convention Center, I was able to take in former Vice President Al Gore talking about the emerging forces that are reshaping the world and the future, and then catch Harvey Levin of TMZ talking about how to program for the convergence of the Internet and television. Not to mention the fascinating events bringing together startups, entrepreneurs, investors and cutting-edge digital tastemakers taking place at Startup Village at the Downtown Austin Hilton throughout the week. With 5 days of over 500 plus Interactive sessions at 17 venues with numerous platforms and formats with some of the world's most talented speakers, SXSW Interactive truly has something for everyone.
The large SXSW Trade Show brought together and celebrates the organizations that define the ever-evolving relationship between media, technology, creators and consumers. The trade show is the heart of the converging industries experienced at SXSW. A stroll through all the different booths truly gives SXSW visitors a view into current trends and the products of the future.
After a long day of sessions and networking, the events continue at the numerous parties and dinners throughout Austin. Some of my favorites were the Edelman Digital party at The Dogwood, The Startup America live event by the Kauffman Foundation with Bootsy Collins at ACL Live, The VegasTech Tech Cocktail events, the Microsoft BizSpark "meatup" at Old School and the Startup Missouri party at Haddingtons. These events just scratch the surface of the hundreds of badged and unbadged parties and meetups at SXSW. The uniqueness and "cool" factor of many Austin venues and settings helped to add to the SXSW experience.
No one can leave SXSW without eating a lot of great food. Stubb's BBQ brisket was incredible as was The Salt Lick BBQ spreads throughout town. Rainey Street, a block of old houses, that now serve as bars and restaurants is a site to be seen and very well-known with locals. Nearby Rainey Street, is the South by South Bites food trucks, which are exceptional. I have no idea how anyone who lives or visits Austin would ever think of or eat chain fast food. The Chi'Lantro Korean BBQ truck was a SXSW favorite.
At the end of the day SXSW Interactive is an amazing spectacle. If you haven't ever been to Austin it's a must see city. If you haven't been to SXSW it's a bucket list event. The relationships built with individuals from your own neck of the woods and with those from across the globe is special. The ability to be inspired, network and connect with many of the leaders of industry and innovation is unmatched.
The 2013 SXSW Interactive conference was a big success from all angles. Cheers to another great SXSW in 2014!
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