(Photo by Juliana Reyes)
For the first time, Philly had an organized effort to make a splash at South by Southwest.
Backed by local sponsors to the tune of $91,000 and organized by Yuval Yarden, Sue Spolan and Dave Silver, the SXSW Philly project had a whole section at the SXSW trade show and produced a sold-out concert headlined by DJ Jazzy Jeff (about a third of the money was spent on musicians, Yarden told us). More than 30 companies from Philly attended, including Technical.ly, likely making it the biggest local presence to date. The organizers are hosting a feedback session next Tuesday in hopes of planning a better trip next year.
Philadelphia wasn’t the only city trying to make a name for itself at SXSW: cities and countries like Washington, D.C., Germany and Des Moines, Iowa, all had flashy presences at the conference, renting out restaurants or putting up tents to serve as a hub for programming and parties.
Here’s a look at the Philly scene at SXSW.
For Jay Silverstein, being there meant being in good company.
The Picwell CEO told us he’d rather be at the Austin conference than, say, a more industry-specific conference like HIMSS, because SXSW has a reputation for being cutting edge and innovative. Not old and stodgy. (Picwell makes a platform to help people choose insurance plans. Its customers are largely insurance providers.)
— Technical.ly Philly (@TechnicallyPHL) March 14, 2016
“Sometimes you are who your community is,” he said at his booth at the SXSW trade show last week.
In other words, SXSW helped position Picwell as an innovative company. It’s a common theme of SXSW: corporations come to the festival to brand themselves as forward-thinkers. In 2012, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini came to the festival to talk about wellness apps. This year, insurance provider Aflac sponsored Austin’s bikeshare. Philly’s own Independence Blue Cross, along with several others, sponsored the SXSW Philly initiative.
The company didn’t plan on going to SXSW this year but decided to do it when they learned about the SXSW Philly effort.
Silverstein and Picwell Chief Revenue Officer Jim Bletzer — two of the five Picwell employees at SXSW — told us they were pleasantly surprised to see several potential customers at SXSW, and that was a good thing.
“‘I saw you at South By’ is better than ‘I saw you at the HR Expo,'” Silverstein said.
Comcast had its hands all over SXSW this year.
The media giant offered free yoga (and swag mats and cucumber water) at the job fair, taught by Kristin Dudley, Comcast’s senior manager of talent brand and attraction.
— Kristin Dudley (@kadud) March 13, 2016
They had Lil Jon and Ludacris:
— Technical.ly Philly (@TechnicallyPHL) March 13, 2016
They had a “Social Media Lounge” featuring interviews with entrepreneurs, including our own cofounder Chris Wink who led a panel on lessons from the Tomorrow Tour, which is sponsored by Comcast.
— Danielle Cohn (@daniellecohn) March 13, 2016
Andrew Nakkache, the 23-year-old founder of Habitat, hustled to promote a SXSW version of his food delivery app despite a few hitches, like falling ill the first day he landed in Austin.
Accelerator DreamIt Ventures hosted a packed happy hour that showcased portfolio startups like BioBots, which won “Most Innovative” at SXSW last year, CHOP spinout Haystack Informatics and NarrativeDX, which left Philly for Austin last year. They also hosted a private DreamIt Health dinner. Also, DreamIt’s Steve Barsh met Grover:
— Steve Barsh (@sbarsh) March 18, 2016
Longtime SXSW-goers Curalate held a happy hour on a rooftop bar, the company’s largest SXSW event to date, where it gave away jewelry from Curalate client Bauble Bar. It was part of a series of fashion and tech events with Decoded Fashion.
— Technical.ly Philly (@TechnicallyPHL) March 12, 2016
At the happy hour, we ran into ChargeItSpot’s Doug Baldasare and Pat Tenneriello, along with Scott Emmons, Neiman Marcus’ Dallas-based head of innovation who was bunking with the ChargeItSpot duo during the conference. (Neiman Marcus is both a ChargeItSpot client and a Curalate client.)
“This is the modern-day World’s Fair,” Baldasare said.
ChargeItSpot had its charging stations in a few locations around SXSW, including a Refinery29 and Neiman Marcus art exhibit with someone from Hollywood:
— ChargeItSpot (@ChargeItSpot) March 12, 2016
And the best for last: Whose Your Landlord CEO Ofo Ezeugwu met Philly-raised celeb Amber Rose.
— Ofo (@OfoEzeugwu) March 13, 2016
“You need to meet the right people, stand confidently at the door, and say you know someone inside,” Ezeugwu wrote in a post about SXSW on LinkedIn. Read more of his SXSW hacks here.