LAUNCHedu Arena

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Despite all its hype, South by Southwest Interactive continues to be the nation's biggest gathering (ahem, party) of entrepreneurs around—the event that sets the startup community's agenda for the year to come, where trends are identified, brands are launched and tech celebrities are made.

ExitEvent didn't make the trek to Austin this year, but a bunch of local entrepreneurs and community members did. We asked them to respond to three simple questions about the experience. 

1. What is one big takeaway from this year's festival? Could be about an industry, trend, company or the conference in general.
2. What was the highlight of the festival for you?
3. Why did you go and what do you think will come from your experience there?

See below for their diverse experiences, and some insights about what they'll bring back to their businesses and the Triangle in the weeks to come:

James Kotecki, Automated Insights 
  1. The best way to get started is to just start. I heard this advice from a YouTube star and professional comedians Bill Burr and Doug Benson, when asked for their advice about succeeding in their respective professions. It was reinforced in another way by GoogleX's Astro Teller, who talked about the value of getting a project out into the real world and learning from failure. 
  2. Professional highlight: Moderating an excellent conversation between our CEO Robbie Allen and AP VP & Managing Editor Lou Ferrara during our session "When Robots Write the News, What Will Humans Do?" Personal highlight: meeting actor Jonathan Frakes—Commander Riker himself! 
  3. I went because our CEO was speaking. After experiencing SxSW Interactive for the first time, my goal is to secure our team one or more speaking slots next year. 
James Kotecki and Jonathan Frakes
A highlight of SXSW for James Kotecki of Automated Insights was meeting Jonathan Frakes of Star Trek. Credit: James Kotecki

Vicki Gibbs, Albright Digital and SOAR
  1. Gender diversity in tech companies, women leadership in tech organizations, women in investment organizations, investing in women-led organizations and diversity related to all of those were all HOT topics at the show, especially in light of the Ellen Pao case. Other hot topics included: Wearables for recreational fitness performance and how this can impact professional sports and optimization of athletic performance, and biometrics and the science behind all the wearables. There was lots of focus on original content creation and analytics—how to get use out of analytics instead of doing analysis paralysis.
  2. One of the coolest things that I saw was the setup by NatGeo for the new reality series called "Life Below Zero". They had great branding in their setup, with fake snow and taxidermy bears and wolves. They also had an interactive game where six people go into an enclosed room that is made to look like you are in the snow/ ice and the temperature is 45 degrees—the team has to find clues, solve the puzzle, and find the key to escape, and you have 20 mins to do it! It was a great way to launch the show that starts on April 9 and our team did solve it—with only 45 secs left to go, but we escaped!

Brandon Magsamen, CrowdTunes 
  1. Diversity—This was a common theme throughout the talks I was at. Whether it was diversity in a founding team, large company, diversity of markets, etc., people seem to be actively working on how to increase and reach the right level of diversity across their businesses. 
  2. Beyond the standard "being surrounded by insane amounts of energy," one highlight was having a very quick encounter and drink with Steve Case (AOL) at a bar that I used to frequent in college. #starstruck 
  3. Education. I wanted to learn how the festival operates to know how to effectively leverage it for our business in the future. I also had some meetings with music labels and publishers. As a music startup, it's the perfect festival for us as it combines interactive with great music. 

Adam Klein, American Underground 
  1. Diversity in tech was THE topic of conversation. It's great to see the entire industry making this a top priority. 
  2. My highlight was getting a drink with Wayne Sutton and getting to hear Steve Case announce the Rise of the Rest Tour, with a stop planned for the Triangle! And seeing Jimmy Kimmel live
  3. I was at SxSW to give a talk about Building a Tech Ecosystem during the Interactive portion of the festival. The experience was a great chance to build the network, meet other entrepreneurs and people running technology hubs. SxSW is so overwhelming—there are 50 talks per hour—that I'd like to target my time a little more on the next visit. 
Adam Klein's panel at SxSW 2015
Adam Klein sat on a panel at SxSW 2015 with UP Global's Marc Nager, Joshua Baer of Austin's Capital Factory and Revolution Ventures's Clara Sieg.
Jim Roberts, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship 
  1. The takeaway for me is really validation that Wilmington is doing the right things to build our entrepreneurial community despite our smaller size. Hearing people from Techstars or Global Accelerator Network, Y Combinator and TechSpot all discuss the things we are doing with our three-month bootcamp, High Tide Breakfast, investor-related events, and our partnership with Elite Innovations MakerSpace. 
  2. I am a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan and got to sit front row to hear him have a “Ranch Side” chat with venture capitalist Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital. While I would have preferred they each have their own spotlight, it was still a great session. "The Tipping Point" played a huge role in guiding and validating the work I do to help entrepreneurs through the roles of maven, salesman and most importantly, connectors. The two men could not be more different. Gladwell calls himself the “Skinny Canadian” and Gurley is a huge Texan with big boots, best known for his recent investment in Uber. 
  3. I go to SxSW for inspiration, connections and to raise the profile of Wilmington and North Carolina as a technology state. I have been going since 2000 and have represented Charlotte, Asheville and now Wilmington. I was pretty vocal on Twitter and in person about trying to get Wilmington added to the Rise of Rest Tour (though Wilmington companies are invited to apply for the Durham events) but we still have some work to do to get added in future years. My favorite new connection from SxSW is one of the co-founders of 23AndMe. 

Karl Rectanus, Lea(R)n
  1. The education innovation market is growing! A lot of the attendees were international, and the opportunities in the US and abroad are rapidly maturing. 
  2. Lea(R)n was one of 10 companies from around the country in the LAUNCHedu competition, where we pitched to a packed house. Besides sharing our story with a broad, influential audience, the highlight for us was having schools and districts give us their business cards and set up meetings as we were walking off the stage! 
  3. We were at SxSWedu, which is the education focused portion of the event. Our team went to share our story and listen to our target prospects and markets. The barbeque tasted good, and the music sounded great, but it was getting connected to so many folks in our industry that made it worthwhile.
Lea(R)n at SxSW Launchedu
Lea(R)n was one of 10 startups to pitch at SxSW's LAUNCHedu.

Jennifer Bosser, Wake County Economic Development/Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce 
  1. One major takeaway from this year’s event was the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) as a major player in the tech industry moving forward. 
  2. Connecting with talent from across the country to talk about the rich quality of life and career opportunities in Raleigh and the Triangle. 
  3. Wake County Economic Development and the City of Raleigh’s office of economic development went to SxSW to exhibit at SxSW’s Job Market in order to promote job opportunities with technology companies in Raleigh and the Triangle, and to interact with skilled professionals, entrepreneurs and technology companies attending SXSW. The goal of the trip was to raise awareness of Raleigh and the Triangle as a highly desirable destination for talented professionals by showcasing the region’s quality of place, and highlighting the area as a great place for entrepreneurs and businesses to start up and relocate. The team promoted the Work in the Triangle web portal, a regional talent initiative that was launched in May 2012, as well as the city’s new interactive website featuring startups.
Raleigh at SXSW Jobs
Derrick Minor of the city of Raleigh and Jennifer Bosser and Morgan Servie of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce attended SxSW to recruit talent to our region.

James Sauls, City of Raleigh 
  1. We did the talent and interactive events there. A big takeaway for me was the positive response we had from job seekers and companies about Raleigh and our efforts to promote the city. 
  2. We happened upon a panel discussion (outside of the tradeshow) that was discussing how tech is disrupting traditional film making. In light of the recent changes to film credits in NC, this could be an opportunity for Raleigh to leverage our tech sector to gain even more traction in films. 
  3. We went to promote the city, local jobs and launch our new startup resource map, which includes a "who's hiring" function.  

Derrick Minor, City of Raleigh 
  1. Seeing the number of other communities that are now also showcasing their startups and/or trying to recruit talent (the number continues to grow each year), it's even more imperative for us to have a presence. 
  2. it's amazing the number of people we met (from around the country) that have ties back to Raleigh and the Triangle (birthplace, family, alma mater, etc). They all mentioned they've heard about the incredible transformation that our region has experienced over the last five years and their desire to eventually move back to the market. 
  3. See James and Jennifer's responses above.
Raleigh at SXSW 2015
The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and City of Raleigh partnered to attend the SXSW Job Market. Here's their display. Credit: Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce