Austin: There’s Gold in Them Thar Silicon Hills

Marching towards progress.

Marching towards progress.

My first taste of SXSW, circa 2008, left a weary residue on my palate. Unable to see beyond the hype of the festival, I swore I’d never return. But then, this year, thanks to my co-founder Mike Gold, I came back, and with eyes freshly opened, I can say that, folks, this place is the real deal.

Culturally, economically, and ecosystemically, Austin is quickly emerging as the next big startup hub, joining the esteemed ranks of San Francisco, New York, and London. As Faith Merino writes for Vator:

The tech scene in Austin is booming, so much so that it’s been dubbed the “Silicon Hills.” Heavy hitters like Apple, Facebook, Google, HP, IBM, Dell, and more have set up shop in Austin, and the city now accounts for much of all the tech-related revenue in the state.

So if you’re looking to get your idea off the ground and you don’t want to live under a freeway overpass in Silicon Valley, Austin is the place to go.

Moreso than Boston (too stodgy), Portland (too chilly), Boulder (too small), LA (too sprawl-y), Seattle (too Amazon-and-Microsoft-y), or Chicago (too — I’m not sure what — but just not Chicago), Austin has the perfect storm of factors that position it for exponential growth in the years to come.

Consider the following fun facts, if you will:

  • Austin is the fastest-growing city in the country, with regional population increasing by 2.8% annually, and economic growth soaring by 6.8%.
  • One of the largest universities in the nation, UT Austin, sits blocks away from downtown.
  • Similar to the San Francisco counterculture of yore, Austin celebrates individuality, self-expression, and weirdness — qualities that befit an entrepreneurial culture that challenges, rather than embraces, the status quo.

More to the point, Austin has a genuine and growing startup ecosystem already in place. Vibrant spaces like Capital Factory and Conjunctured offer world-class co-working. Accelerators like TechStars, Tech Ranch, and ATI offer numerous opportunities for incubation and early-stage growth. Growth-stage startups, like WPEngine and uShip, anchor the community with proven success stories.

And then, of course, there’s SXSW Interactive, bringing together more people from more startups than any other event in the world.

Southby serves as a telling analogy to the city’s sensibility as a whole: deeply community-driven, yet friendly and open to the outside world. Tellingly, denizens identify as “local,” not “native”; hometown pride permeates every square inch of the city’s 271.8 square miles, but it’s a smiling pride, a friendly pride, a welcoming pride — a pride that says mi casa, su casa — this is my home, and it can be yours, too.

Granted, none of this is intended to paint a rose-tinted view of the place. Austin has its share of problems and shortcomings — the startup scene lacks growth-stage venture capital, and, outside of SXSW, the event community is said to be lacking (though we’re certainly thinking about ways to change that). The city itself lacks blue-state-quality public transit, endures its fair share of crime, and sits in the midst of a state that’s governed, at least for now, by a festering mold of scum better known as Rick Perry.

Then again, the gaps and shortcomings in Austin (for the startup scene, at least) imply that there’s room to grow — and, with both an open-minded and business-friendly culture, the future shines brightly.

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