SxSW Goes Main Street – Corporate America and Global 5000 Join The Party

March 11, 2014

Another SxSW Interactive has come and gone, as have more than a few brain cells amongst the 40,000 some attendees and camp followers.  It’s still remarkable how much SxSW has blown up over the last five years in particular and how much it has helped to put Austin on the startup/entrepreneur map in a huge way.   See this New York Times article for a good snapshot into what has become the biggest all-things-web and startup conference.

The 4th Annual MDV Startup Mixer at SxSW (many thanks to our co-sponsor Comerica Bank), was another success. Several hundred entrepreneurs, investors, and the professionals who support their companies flocked to Summit Lounge to drink signature cocktails and talk tech. Equally as successful were the events and parties thrown by MDV portfolio companies RocketFuel, AirPR, OneSpot, TicketFly, RockHealth and PeoplePattern.

During one of the panels I was on over the weekend, I was asked a question I thought would make a good focus for this post, “What is the biggest take-away or company to watch at SxSW (ala Twitter’s or FourSquare’s debut a few SxSW’s ago)?

My answer came in two parts.  First, SxSW has become so big and so noisy, that it’s unlikely any one thing or any one company will make a major splash and really standout to emerge as the buzz of the conference.  There had to be more than a thousand startups in attendance at the various pitch competitions (I know of at least four unofficial ones, in addition to the many offered at the conference itself), or just milling around the conference floor, exhibit areas, and the hundreds of events and parties over the six days of Interactive.  SxSW has become more about a very intense, compressed, focused networking gathering, where you can see as many partners, investors, startups, and the like in a few days as would otherwise take several weeks if not months.  The real value and the real work is in all the meetings you schedule beforehand, and the ones you have as you meet new people or reconnect at the conference.

But, there was one take-away or thing that really stood out this year as new.  For really the first time, the major brands and corporation were here en masse.  Not to promote their products at SxSW Music & Film Fest, but rather to learn and understand what is happening across the digital landscape, especially in terms of innovation, digital marketing, and entrepreneurship.  For example, I attended a boot camp held by Kraft where a large team of Kraft brand owners and product managers visited local Austin startups and incubators, and listened to pitches from a number of entrepreneurs.  They saw SxSW as a great place to efficiently see and learn about the latest in digital marketing techniques, apply entrepreneurial approaches to their own business lines, and also spot interesting potential partnership opportunities.

And there was a CMO Club House for senior marketing executives from brands to meet up and exchange ideas and information about what they were seeing at SxSW.  In short, SxSW and the startup world has become, as my partner Geoffrey Moore would say “Main Street”.  It’s no longer a geekfest or quirky conference where these strange folks called entrepreneurs and venture capitalist show up.  SxSW is now where the Global 5000 need to be to keep a finger on the pulse of innovation and to learn how to incorporate some of the things that make startups flourish into their own activities.

And best quote of the conference?  “If I were to launch a product at SxSW… it would be a 3D printer for a new liver,” stated a Pandora exec who wishes to remain incognito.

Can’t wait for SxSW2015!