The first piece of advice I got from the Samsung guy sitting beside me on the flight to Austin was to steer clear of all the free food at SXSW. Last year, he put on 15 pounds in a week he said. He also told me to hang out at the Driskill Hotel on 6th street. Thankfully, this advice was a lot easier to follow and I spent many fun and productive hours meeting VCs, reporters and startups in the Driskill foyer and cafe. Bumping into Robert Duvall was, of course, the grand finale.
I came to Austin from London where we had just launched Dublin Globe at the Irish Networks lunch with Ambassador Dan Mulhall. As I sat down for my first of many coffees at the Driskill, Tom Lyons texted from Dublin to say that Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz had just retweeted his article in Dublin Globe. I felt like taking a very long holiday, but too much fun awaited for that.
There was no shortage of star performers at Enterprise Ireland’s booth at SXSW including one of the festival’s most successful startups, Teamwork from Cork; companies representing the next wave of Irish innovation like Gramma Music, and young and inspiring investors like Illann Power. The booth also featured the most popular swag in the history of SXSW, our “You’re a Total Legend” tote bags.
I was impressed at how well stocked with meetings the Irish companies were and how much value they all seemed to get out of the festival. EI organized a number of breakfasts, panels and evening events and then of course, there was the Taoiseach’s address; the first by a sitting Head of State at SXSW, ever. All in all, the Irish invasion was a great success.
My purpose in Austin was to spread the gospel about Dublin as a great tech city and to get a feel for how other cities were promoting themselves and why. Everyone I met really liked the idea of the Dublin Startup Commissioner role, and talking about it was a great opener to a conversation about what I call the “3 forces of Dublin” - startups, multinationals and ecosystem - that together make us unique, innovative and give us a competitive advantage over other cities.
You see, neither Dublin, nor Ireland has a well-defined context in the SXSW “Interactive” view of the world but neither, to be fair, do most other cities. What cities like Detroit, Berlin, Tel Aviv, and Austin itself do enjoy is the cachet of curiosity. People are eager to find out what’s new in these cities for fear of missing out on something cool.
During one of those hours at the Driskill, I bumped into an American filmmaker who had worked in the global marketing team at Google in Dublin in 2012. She said she had been looking forward to learning about the lifestyle and culture of Dublin but was exposed to very little of that, not to mind our startups, during her year plus living here. Clearly, Dublin also has the cachet of curiosity. We just haven’t figured out how to capitalize on it, at home or globally.
Curiosity is the big takeaway from my first tour of duty at SXSW. How, as a small but important global city we can leverage it, amplify it and capitalize on it to connect our great startups to the world, and connect the world to Dublin? Figuring this out will be a huge win for us all.