Madison presence at SXSW gains exposure for region

As business connections between Madison and Austin, Texas deepen, the South by Southwest show provides a unique opportunity to get more exposure for Wisconsin’s southern region, Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon says.

The two-day SXSW show took place on March 11 and 12 in Austin, where companies from across the world showcased innovations in film, music and technology.

Brandon pointed to Madison companies setting up “outposts” in Austin as proof of the connection between the two cities, as well as more national awareness of the growing tech scene in Madison.

The chamber threw an event March 13 in Austin for Wisconsin-connected companies, drawing representatives of notable companies like Redox, Design Concepts, American Family Ventures and the Doyenne Group, an organization that “makes Madison the number one place in the world to be a female entrepreneur,” according to Brandon.

Looking Forward with Madison, which was held at the G’Raj Mahal Café, included educational programming largely focused on social good and responsibility, highlighting entrepreneurs that support “equity for women and people of color.”

Kauffman Foundation representatives also made an appearance, and the State Department even brought the Peruvian tourism minister to the chamber’s event.

“You never know who is going to stop by,” Brandon said.

He has been coaching startups at the show as part of the SXSW Accelerator for three years now, and was asked to be the program’s head coach for the first time this year. Participating startups have the chance to pitch their ambitious tech ideas live to a panel of judges.

In his expanded role, he says he interacted with many promising companies, the most impressive of which were operating in the evolving sectors of fintech, security, entertainment, wearables, and augmented reality -- or AR.

Through connections made at the show, the chamber is now in talks with Aurasma, a Chicago-based AR company, about the possibility of using its immersive technology to show off the city of Madison.

“The stage is set by Austin and SXSW, we’re helping put a good performance on that stage,” Brandon said, adding the show is a “great opportunity” to showcase what Madison companies are doing.

He says Madison is on a similar trajectory to places like Austin and Seattle, just a decade or so behind, so traveling to Austin represents a valuable learning opportunity for Madison.

“But we’re also bringing info there, and sharing it,” Brandon said. “We are solving problems others are having too.”

At the end of the day, Brandon sees Madison as a tech hub that is steadily growing toward the status that Austin and other cities currently enjoy.

“We import talent and money, and export solutions -- that’s the reason why we are here.”

--By Alex Moe

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