Friday, March 15, 2013

Think Big’s SXSW & GCUC Experience (A Q&A with SXSW Rookie Sarah Snyder)

SXSW is an enormous opportunity for startups, entrepreneurs, investors and technology enthusiasts. Sarah Snyder, meeting planner at Think Big Partners and bizperc, attended GCUC for the second year in a row as well as SXSW for the first time this past week with dozens of other local startups representing Midwestern innovation, traveling by bus together to Austin. It was a fast-paced, engaging and exciting time. We sat down with Sarah to hear more.

TBP: What was your involvement with SXSW?

Sarah: I went to a coworking conference Tuesday and Wednesday and then I went to SXSW. The first conference was called Global Coworking Unconference Conference, or GCUC (pronounced “juicy”). 250 of the coworking space owners and managers from all around the world gather to share best practices, talk about the industry: trends, movements, patterns that we see. We talk about our own spaces and what different people are doing. We talked about how we’re influencing urban development and job creation, as well as startup support and government relations. It was a two day conference and a lot of valuable conversations and ideas came out of that first day.

TBP: What did you do on the second day?

Sarah: The second day was the “unconference” portion of GCUC, and the audience decided the topic. Then we voted on which sessions we’d like to go to and then the most popular sessions and common themes were combined. We chose an organic moderator, and the whole unconference was very organic and engaging. All the discussions were interactive and it was truly a discussion. It was not like one person talking to the rest of the group, everyone was contributing. By the end of the sessions you wanted to get everyone’s business cards because everyone was so interesting. It was a really great way to connect, and I learned a lot about different tools to implement in our space.

TBP: And you also went to SXSW?

Sarah: Yes. SXSW started Friday. The first meeting I had with all the Kansas City, MO folks was really exciting. We met with Senator Jerry Moran at the Facebook Austin office. First of all, I’ve never been in a Facebook office, and second of all, having an intimate conversation with Jerry Moran was awesome.

TBP: For those who don’t know, tell us a little about Jerry Moran.

Sarah: He is known as the person who helped shut down the SOPA/PIPA proposal. His big proposal was Startup Act 2.0, and at this year’s SXSW he was promoting Startup Act 3.0. He’s a big startup proponent. He was so real with us. Even though he’s from the Kansas side and the SXSW group is from the Missouri side – St. Louis, Kansas City – he said he thinks Kansas City can be the most entrepreneurial city. He talked about Washington and his drive for support and all the work he’s doing. It was really interesting that he gave us the time of day.  We even went around the room talking about what each of us does.

TBP: He sounds very supportive.

Sarah: He was really there to listen, and he was engaged and interested in everything that’s going on. And Jerry Moran was using Kansas City startup Phone2Action to promote jobs for Startup Act 3.0, and I got a picture of Phone2Action co-founder Jeb Ory showing Jerry Moran how the application works. [shown below]

TBP: It sounds like Kansas City was very well represented at SXSW.

Sarah: Everyone from Kansas City brought the party down to Austin. We had a blast. As we went around, even though we weren’t always together, at least once a day we all met up. I think people were really impressed with the camaraderie of the Missouri startups. We were all working together supporting each other. We brought down 30 to 40 startups, and so people were very impressed with our Midwestern representation.

It was a great time for all involved, but perhaps especially for Phone2Action, Think Big Partners Accelerator company, who beat out seven other startups to win the SXSW Accelerator challenge in the New Technologies category. Along with bragging rights and a jump-start toward growth, Phone2Action won $4,000, free tickets to next year’s SXSW, free web hosting for a year and Apple TV. This is an exciting development for the young company, and if past winners are any indicator, the win means that there are even bigger things ahead.

Want more info from Sarah herself? Follow her on Twitter @SarahThinkBIG. 

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