In a lot of ways, South by Southwest Interactive 2013 looked just like you would expect. Austin, with its eclectic bars and restaurants, was yet again the perfect backdrop for nonconformists from across the nation to come together to talk about the “next big thing.” Typical pitches were shared between founders while drinking beers or walking down 6th Street. Ideas were being discussed, cards were exchanged and t-shirts given away.
But make no mistake: The entrepreneurs of SXSW 2013 were very different from the ones of years past and there are three distinct reasons why.
They’re not just coming from the Valley
Paul Singh, principal of the Mountain View incubator 500 Startups, shared some words of wisdom with me years ago that were ringing in my ears this year at SXSW. He said, “As an entrepreneur, you don’t have to be in the Valley, the Valley just has to be in you.” I don’t think this saying has ever been truer.
This year at SXSW, I found myself engaging with startups, who, more often than not, have traded in the thriving tech communities of San Francisco, Palo Alto or Mountain View, California, to start their businesses in growing startup communities such as Washington, D.C., Chicago or Denver.
“Ninety-eight percent of startups are not based in the Valley, but that’s where most of the money is. We want to change that,” said Nick Tippman, the founder of EverywhereElse.co, the largest single venue startup conference in the country (who is based in Cincinnati while his co-founder is based in Memphis, where the conference was held).
He’s clearly not alone in his thinking. New incubators and accelerators are popping up every day, both in and outside of the United States, making a strong case for why Silicon Valley investors should keep their minds (and wallets) open to companies outside their own backyard. Take for example Global Accelerator Network, which was at SXSW to promote its network of more than 50 accelerators, which exist on six continents and in 63 cities.
Dotcom is no longer their only domain of choice
Startup founders know that finding a great .com domain name for their startup is no longer likely. Until now, that has been a point of great frustration, forcing entrepreneurs to spend a large part of their funding on securing a serviceable domain name or to settle on subpar names to build their brands. Then, .co came on the scene and that all changed.
This year at SXSW, I met at least a dozen interesting companies built on .co and saw at least a dozen others promoting their businesses. Among them were Facebook co-founder Randi Zuckerberg -- promoting her new digital lifestyle magazine, dotcomplicated.co -- and retail behemoth Wal-Mart promoting goodies.co, a food subscription startup launched through its Wal-Mart Labs division.
Peter Bodenheimer, founder of the social drinking app BarNotes (which was thought up during a conversation over drinks at SXSW two years ago), chose to launch BarNotes on the .co domain and has been amazed at the boom in companies doing the same. “It’s actually trendy now -- I like the idea that we got started before the trend,” he said.
Other non-dotcom domain extensions are also gaining popularity, including .me and .io. I suspect that in the next year, as more new top-level domains start to come online, the presumption in favor of dotcom will continue to diminish.
They want to make a meaningful impact
SXSW 2013 may not have launched the next big thing in social media this year, but that wasn’t what this year’s conference was all about. In a country where childhood obesity is at an all-time high and faith in our education and health care systems seems to be at a low, we need entrepreneurs who are passionate about finding solutions to real problems we face every day.
After meeting hundreds of startup founders, I am happy to say I think that’s exactly what’s happening.
Founder of The Innovation Movement, Fabien Beckers, is fighting to support strategic immigration reform and keep innovators in America. Medicast.co is disrupting the health care industry by connecting people with licensed physicians, when and where they want it, for under $100. Founded to lower the cost of higher education, CommonBond makes it possible for students to save money on their student loans by crowd-funding loans from alumni and individual investors.
Yes, things are changing on the tech scene, and if you ask me, it’s for the better. These startup companies are inspiring, and I can’t wait to see what next year brings.