Thursday 27 April 2017

Irish innovators to the fore in Austin - home of SXSW and Texan capital of keeping it weird

SXSW has attracted names from across the entertainment and technology industries including global hip-hop icon, Snoop Dogg. Photo: Getty Images
SXSW has attracted names from across the entertainment and technology industries including global hip-hop icon, Snoop Dogg. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Burfield at South by Southwest

Arguably the world's most iconic event for launching new talent and game-changing technology and ideas - a Woodstock meets the Web Summit to the power of ten - South by Southwest (SXWS) has an incredible ability to capture the zeitgeist at the intersection between technology, music, film and digital media.

Everyone from Johnny Cash to Lady Gaga has gigged here. Scores of films have premiered; many have won distribution deals. SXSW Interactive is the event's emerging technology stream. Its past roll call of keynote speakers includes Mark Zuckerberg, Jimmy Wales, Craigslist's Craig Newmark, SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk and Barack Obama. It's where Twitter gained much of its initial traction a decade ago and where entrepreneurs from all over the world gather for discovery, networking and inspiration.

In an incredible achievement, Ireland's first gene foundry Helixworks, which plans on storing all the data on Google in a test-tube, was named this year's most innovative company at SXSW.

Other Irish tech startups with Enterprise Ireland at SXWS share this pioneering spirit. Illustrative of the 'sharing-economy' mega-trend, Parkpnp's platform enables users to generate revenue from their unused car parking spaces, while Sanctifly helps business travellers to access leisure facilities in airport hotels, while waiting for a connecting flight. Tapping into another disruptive wave, Cogni Financial and Transfermate provide alternatives to traditional banking solutions.

Other Irish innovators at SXWS included greener energy-use enabler Systemlink; e-learning specialist Intuition; and business workflow and productivity leader DataKraft, along with several companies in the content space, including Newswhip, Vistatec and Digisoft.tv.

Also flying the green flag, Enterprise Ireland client companies GirlCrew, a global network for women to make new friends, was one of 10 companies to represent the EU. StitcherAds celebrated its expanding business partnership with Pinterest, and Overhaul continues to disrupt the market for moving premium cargo in North America.

Irish companies that have established roots here often describe Austin as being distinct in feel from much of Texas, with a more laid-back attitude and a strong student population. Celebrating its diversity and individuality, one of the city's mantras is 'Keep Austin Weird'.

The cowboy may be an iconic figure of Texas - one in seven Texans is employed in agriculture, and agricultural output has a $100bn impact on the state's economy. But, these days, the silicon chip is just as emblematic.

Nicknamed Silicon Hills since the 1990s, Austin has increasingly been giving San Francisco's Bay Area a run for its money. Fortune 500 companies with HQ or regional offices there include AMD, Apple, Cisco, Dell, eBay, Facebook, Google, IBM, Intel, 3M, Oracle and Texas Instruments.

With a three-hour drive, you can hit Dallas or Houston, and Irish companies SkyTek and Combilift, travelled with us to connect with clients NASA and FloworksPVF, underlining the diversity of potential buyers Texas offers.

During the past decade, the Lone Star State has become the second largest economy in the US, pushing New York off the number two slot.

It's now the fifteenth largest economy in the world, buoyed by an abundance of natural resources and a strong position in petrochemicals, energy, aerospace, machinery manufacturing, biomedical science and computers and electronics. Enterprise Ireland's office in Austin can help you understand where the best potential lies and define your approach to doing business here.

Among the global players, there's a culture that embraces early-stage technology, entrepreneurialism and innovation, no doubt supported by the success of SXSW.

This year SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive attracted over 50,000 registrants. Not bad for an event first organised 30 years ago by a couple of staffers with The Austin Chronicle, who expected a turnout of about 150. Austin, you're a gem. Keep it Weird!

Paul Burfield is Enterprise Ireland's SVP for West and Southern USA Enterprise Ireland

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