Reports From SXSW V2V
Tech entrepreneurs get intimate in Vegas
By Doug Freeman, 3:15PM, Tue. Aug. 20
South by Southwest in Austin is an all-encompassing event, one that seems to direct the energy of the entire city for at least two weeks every year in March.
So for SXSW’s foray into expanding the event and brand with the inaugural SXSW V2V (Venture to Vegas) conference last week, one question was on everyone's mind: How would the sheer madness for which the flagship Austin festival is known fare in a city most famous for the outlandish?
Not surprisingly, the conference held on the fourth floor of Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino barely made a ripple of acknowledgment amid the maddening din of the Vegas strip. Instead, SXSW offered up an impressively intimate and informal four-day communion of entrepreneurs and technology mentors, resulting in an experience that was as disproportionately intimate to Vegas as the March event is extravagant to Austin.
Reportedly hosting 1,500 attendees, there never actually seemed more than 1,000 participants milling about the sessions and events, and often many less. Yet that also served as a central point to the conference, which featured a number of one-on-one mentoring sessions for entrepreneurs and the kind of engagement where speakers were easily accessible for conversations after each session.
In fact, if the initial V2V had an overarching theme, it was one of fostering and inspiring entrepreneurship, and how those conditions and connections for success can actually be cultivated through cultural and social engineering. That emphasis was established with Monday afternoon’s opening keynote by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, whose charisma and $350 million investment is spearheading the Downtown Project in rejuvenating the Las Vegas area into a thriving urban hub.
Hsieh and the Downtown Project’s focus on curating serendipity and “collisions” within a community paralleled Tuesday’s keynote by AOL founder and Revolution CEO Steve Case on innovation leadership and culture within both a company and society. Again, the intent on necessarily encouraging entrepreneurship together as a community goal served to reorient attention from specific tech or business successes to an emphasis on success as culture and reinvestment. Likewise, FEED founder Lauren Bush Lauren’s closing keynote on building social good within a business model reflected much of the tech industry and startup world’s motivation of the past couple of years, as giving back and community development become less an aftereffect of success than a precursor for it.
The other primary track that V2V offered was more concerned with concrete lessons and practical advice, from the mentor sessions to the specifically focused panel discussions on startup challenges. The programming difference between V2V and SXSW Interactive surfaced in these panels, which eschewed the hyperbole and general grand gestures of the March presentations for more grounded and straightforward experiential counsel for entrepreneurs. The overall feel of the conference was refreshingly one of high-value interactions and little hype.
V2V also featured gestures towards music showcases and film screenings, though those evening events seemed more to be placing a flag for the conferences future ambitions. The nightly parties did, however, allow firsthand experience of the Downtown Project and just how far the revitalization efforts of downtown Vegas have come in the past year, and what is ambitiously planned in the next three. With the impressive new hip and vibrant urban center serving as a backdrop, it was clear there is exciting and significant change in Vegas’ development, and SXSW has smartly aligned itself with the emerging scene.