South by Southwest (SXSW) is pretty wild. There are tons of people to meet, a lot of cultures to take in and crazy things to see. You can grab a scooter or call an Uber and head out to watch one of the thousands of subject matter expert panels and presentations, meet with innovation leaders from across the globe, meet companies at the trade show or watch an amazing concert by an unsigned artist. And if none of that appeals to you, you can always stumble around until you find something else amazing like a gaggle of singing actors dressed as nuns.
The Midwest Experience
Throughout the conference, we kept hearing from other people from the Midwest say, “We should have all stayed together!”, “What sessions are you attending?”, or “How long are you staying?”. Planning the airfare, accommodations and panels for a conference of this size is an enormous undertaking and you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of the experience and investment.
In response, we decided to survey all Midwest participants at SXSW to find out more about their overall experience. We received an overwhelming response from this year’s attendees on their general impression of the conference, what value they got out of the conference, when they booked a hotel and tips they would give to those who plan to attend SXSW 2020.
Here are the overall takeaways about SXSW:
- SXSW has a broad appeal and value for organizations that attend. All respondents that attended in 2019 said they hoped to participate in the festival again in 2020. Among Midwestern attendees, there was an even mix of venture capitalists, economic developers, people from large corporations, universities and entrepreneurs.
- 40% of Midwesterners who attended SXSW in 2019 were on a panel or formally presented as a subject matter expert at the festival.
- The ticket price for SXSW is steep; however, 93% of Midwesterners who attended SXSW in 2019 had their ticket paid for either by the organization they work for or by another organization. Attendees who work at startup companies were most likely to have to pay for their ticket personally.
- Only 13% of Midwest attendees at SXSW felt the trip wasn’t worth the cost they or their organization incurred to attend the conference. For those who said SXSW wasn’t worth the expense, the number one reason was that they felt they could have had the meetings and chance run-ins without the pass they purchased. So, in the future, they would still attend the conference but would do so without a pass.
- 87% of people recommend booking lodging for SXSW sometime during the last quarter of the year prior to the conference. Last minute options were rare and inadequate, so don’t wait until Q1 to book lodging for this March festival!
- Midwesterners spent an average of five days at SXSW. Overall, respondents also felt that five days was exactly the right amount of time to spend at the festival. Some individual respondents spent as many as nine days in Austin attending special events before the official festivities even began. Interesting to note, by the end of their stay in Austin, most Midwesterners wished they had booked a slightly longer stay.
- During SXSW, the average Midwesterner attended 14 panel sessions, presentations, demonstrations or performances, 12 of those they felt were directly related to, and benefiting, their organizations. In addition to attending planned SXSW events, respondents went to an average of nine one-on-one meetings with other individuals attending SXSW (thanks in part to the great event app they use). On average, seven of those they felt were directly related to, and benefiting, their organizations.
Tips from SXSW Veterans
- To make your trip worthwhile, review the schedule to see who is attending and set up meetings in advance! Take advantage of the app and find ways to communicate and touch base with others who are attending to share observations and feedback. Better yet? Plan the trip with a group to process what you learn at the conference.
- Be flexible. There’s a fine line between over planning and allowing for valuable opportunities to arise! One of the greatest parts of SXSW is that you’ll inevitably meet new people or get invited to an exciting event. As many people noted, a part of the experience is getting outside of your comfort zone, expanding your network and meeting with those you wouldn’t usually see.
The EntryPoint Experience
We are grateful that we had the opportunity to attend SXSW alongside notable members in the entrepreneurial ecosystem! We found our experience was consistent with the Midwest findings. Michigan House and Inc Magazine generously brought us out to SXSW, and once we were there, we felt the presentations, panels and one-on-one meetings were a real value-add on top of the high-quality programs they offered at the conference.
We participated in two panels that focused on research and trends in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, specifically the investment climate in Michigan and the rise of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS):
Inc. Magazine – Founder’s House Panel
Mobility is on everyone’s mind, especially in Michigan, and we were thrilled to participate in the conversation alongside notable industry experts Seun Phillips of PlanetM and Amber Quist of Silvercar by Audi. Moderated by Inc. Editor-in-Chief, Burt Helm, we spoke about investment trends in the mobility sector and how mobility-as-a-service is gaining momentum. According to the 2018 MVCA Research Report, mobility now makes up six percent of capital invested by Michigan investors. While it’s a relatively new sector, Michigan is uniquely positioned to advance mobility due to the state’s manufacturing background and rise of technology companies.
Michigan House – Third Coast: Funding Ecosystem in Michigan
What does the climate for investment and risk look like once you get off the coasts and into the Midwest? During this panel, we joined our friends Jared Stasik of Detroit Venture Partners, Ann Marie Sastry of Amesite and Dana Lowell of Faurecia to discuss the funding climate in Michigan. The Midwest is home to large research institutions, but a pervasive challenge is access to capital. The panel reiterated that what sets Detroit apart, in particular, from other cities across the Midwest is our adaptability, scrappiness and openness to innovation to help reinvigorate the economy.
We are so glad that we had the opportunity to attend SXSW! Are you planning on attending the conference in 2020? Connect with us and let us know! We’d love to meet.