It’s been just over a week since I returned from SXSW Interactive and I think I’ve now had enough time to both recover and process what I experienced to distil my five days in Austin into a summary of what I observed, what I learnt and what some of the key themes were. A short disclaimer – given the sheer amount of talks, panels, showcases, exhibits, random events happening, I only scratched the surface of what took place.

  1. Med Tech is Big.
    From talks on how tech and social media can help deal with the massive growth with diabetes, to the many many companies and startups exhibiting at the conference, one hot area right now is Med Tech.
  2. AI is Here.
    Artificial Intelligence was everywhere. From engaging, interesting and thought-provoking talks to experiencing computer-composed music that was actually very very good (this, for me, is quite profound. An artistic Turing test, if you will). AI, in all its forms, was being talked about and demonstrated. My highlight – beating IBM’s Watson at scissor stone paper. And it wasn’t easy.
  3. Makers are Making Their Mark.
    The hype around 3D printing and how it will revolutionise our lives has been around for a few years now. There were enough businesses on show, with enough traction showing the impact 3D printing will have on everything from car manufacture to hobbies and healthcare, to suggest that the revolution is almost here.
  4. SXSW is Open.
    Whether it’s the amount of free beer that flows, or the simple fact that for the past 30 years, SXSW has been championing new ideas, new technology and new businesses; everyone you seem to meet in Austin is open to new ideas and to connecting to see how you can help each other. This, in itself, is hugely powerful.
  5. People are Looking for “Balance”.
    The last keynote speech I attended was on Happiness – it was full. The talks on how to say ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ (called “Fuck No, Shit Yes and Damn Right”) and time management (it was actually on the nature of Time and how we perceive it, and what that means for how we work) were standing room only. People are busy, they have full lives, and they’re continuing to look for how they can do the work, family and social thing and stay happy.
  6. You need to Embrace the Randomness.
    There are many strange and unexpected sights and sounds in Austin during SXSW. And some incredible random events that take place. My favourite – bumping into an old pal from University in a bar, someone I haven’t seen for 16 years. This also involved meeting potential customers and investors.

Immediately after the trip, I wasn’t sure it was worth the investment of time and money to go (and I need to say thank you to UKTI for their market visit grant and selecting me to be one of UKTI’s Tech Ambassadors).

On reflection, even if none of the connections turn into real business, the new ideas, the new ways of working and the space to think differently for a few days means that I personally gained a huge amount from the experience.

It was also rather a lot of fun.

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