If you’re looking for local color, there aren’t too many cities that can top Austin, Texas. But during South-by-Southwest? Things move to an entirely different level.
While the festival hosts hundreds of conferences in area hotels and the Austin Convention Center – and screens endless movies in a dozen theaters, it’s still a show that can’t be contained by walls.
Some of the most memorable moments of SXSW happen in unofficial venues – or on the street itself – as businesses look to catch the collective eye of showgoers or, just as often, the venture capitalists who are here looking for their next investment.
Here are some of the sights of this year’s show.
Mophie rescue dogs
The cardinal rule of SXSW is ABC – Always Be Charging. Cell phones are your lifeline at the show, and a drained battery is a big deal. Power case manufacturer Mophie dispatched St. Bernards to people whose battery was dying for a quick charge to keep them going. (Note that the puppies featured here were more for display purposes at the company’s offsite booths. Adult rescue dogs go out on the street.)
Flowkana, a farm-to-table cannabis delivery service, has already raised a seed round of funding. Now CEO Michael Steinmetz is looking for a $5 million Series A investment. Standing outside of the Austin Convention Center in a colorful costume and handing out organic apples, he and his team certainly made an impression, though time will tell whether investors stopped to talk.
Movies, movies, movies
SXSW is where many of the spring and summer’s big films have their world debut. Among the movies bowing here this year are Will Farrell’s “Get Hard” and Sally Field’s “My Name is Doris”. The show also screens hundreds of shorts, documentaries and independent films.
The corporate invasion of SXSW is old news, so companies hoping to make an impression need to stand out. Hootsuite is driving this modified bus around town and offering rides on a multi-person bicycle. Other companies are handing out popsicles to people on the street – and just about every company is pouring free beer at one location or another.
Hot Pepper Pitches
Need some start-up funding? Seed Sumo is offering $1,000 per day to entrepreneurs who make the best 60-second pitch – after they’ve consumed a habanero pepper. Here, Lauren Foster, founder of the Stretch app, which helps people maximize their food budget, makes her case – as the spice of the pepper (which ranks between 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale) kicks in.
Don’t like heat? Mastercard is letting people make a true elevator pitch – without leaving the ground floor. At the Mashable house, the company is letting cardholders (and only cardholders) enter an elevator booth, which is equipped with cameras. Once the doors close, entrepreneurs have 60 seconds to pitch their idea – with the winner taking home $15,000.
Robotics are a big theme at this year’s show. So are celebrity appearances. So it shouldn’t be too big a surprise that a few famous robots are here as well. Here, R2D2 entertains fans at an open-to-the-public SXCreate show – while a few booths away, the prosthetic tail that was made famous in the film “Dolphin Tale” is on display, along with people from the company discussing the technology behind it.
As A&E raises awareness of its Bates Motel series, the company has set up a pop-up facility that people can tour during the day – and select contest winners can sleep in at night. Officials at the exhibit said they didn’t plan to play any pranks on guests – though the cheap hotel vibe, thin walls, and central location could still play mind games on people who try to sleep there.
There are, quite possibly, more costumed characters walking around the streets of Austin (wearing logo outfits) than there are at Disney World this week. From people wearing neon domes on their head at night to spandex-wearing dancers to squirrels reading books, if you can imagine it, it’s likely right around the corner. (And they’re constantly taking pictures with people.)
You can’t come to Austin without sampling the local cuisine. Just be prepared to wait for it. While food trucks are omnipresent and free food isn’t hard to find, people are still lining up for the city’s famous barbecue. At La Barbecue, which is a 10-15 minute walk from the convention center, people stood in line for more than an hour to sample the brisket and ribs. Several grumbled while in line, but stopped any complaining the minute they had their first bite.