Newsweek made headlines when its recent front-cover story linked the real Satoshi Nakamoto, the famed creator of Bitcoin, to a curmudgeonly engineer named… Satoshi Nakamoto. You won’t believe what happened next.
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.
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.
Groundbreaking accelerator 500 Startups recently announced the 500 Women Fund, an AngelList syndicate dedicated to funding startups led by women in entrepreneurship. 500 founder Dave McClure commented to PandoDaily, “Smart women entrepreneurs are not getting the access to capital they could.”
An estimated 25 to 30 percent of teams currently funded by 500 Startups include at least one female founder, double the US average of 13%. (500 also invests substantially in international teams, bolstered by its Geeks on a Plane initiative.)
The 500 Women syndicate is a new program designed to further encourage women to become founders, and to support them with a deep network of investors, mentors, and peers.
I’m almost certain that we don’t discriminate against female founders because I would know from looking at the ones we missed. You could argue that we should do more, that we should encourage women to start startups.
Even for an industry structurally dominated by male-biased investment patterns, YCombinator stands out from the crowd: over its eight-year history, 96% of YCombinator founders have been men. It appears, however, that the tides of patriarchy may be waning. Commented PG (as he’s often known) in a subsequent essay:
More thoughtful people were willing to concede YC wasn’t biased against women, but thought we should be actively working to increase the number of female founders. As one put it, instead of being a gatekeeper, we should be a gateway…
We fund more female founders than VCs do, and we help them to overcome the bias they’ll encounter among other investors. In the current YC batch, 16 out of 68 companies, or 24%, have female founders.
I realize though that with female founders, efforts at our stage are not enough.
Pivoting from a previously laissez-faires attitude towards the gender gap, YCombinator appears ready to assume a proactive role in catalyzing social change. Complimenting his two provocative essays on the subject, Paul Graham’s wife and partner, Jessica Livingston, will soon co-host the Female Founders Conference.
Taking place March 1 at the Computer History Museum, the conference will feature an impressive series of talks from accomplished women in technology, including industry leaders Diane Green (Founder, VMWare), Julia Hartz (Co-Founder, EventBrite) and Jessica Mah (Co-Founder, InDinero).
But is it enough?
All these efforts, while commendable, overlook the growing gender gap afflicting the tech field as a whole. In 1984, for instance, 37.1% of US computer science degrees went to women; today, the same figure is 12%, less than a third of the rate three decades ago.
Women face similar discrimination at all levels of organizational leadership — only 19% of American CEOs are women, for instance — leading to the widespread, if controversial, notion of a “pink ghetto.”
Reasons for such a participatory decline may vary, but the scarcity of role models — women in technology with name recognition approaching Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or, more contemporarily, Mark Zuckerberg — may likely play an inhibiting role in encouraging more women to enter the field.
Efforts by YCombinator and 500Startups may play only a minor role in reversing a long-standing sociotechnical trend, but even the longest journey begins with a single step — and in this case, it’s a step in the right direction.
Patent trolls are companies that buy often obscure patents and threaten lawsuits against hundreds or even thousands of people and businesses. The real aim is to get companies to fork over cash to make the troll go away.
“We want to help and protect the small businesses who fuel our local economies,” said Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, who sponsored the bill.
Mark it: _every_ single major player in the cell phone / mobile industry at the time of the iPhone’s introduction is now gone or on life support: Nokia, Motorola, Palm, RIM/Blackberry, Danger, HTC. Roadkill one and all.