March 19th, 2009
What I learned at
summer camp SXSW, Portland edition
I’ve spent the last few days in Austin, TX, at SXSW Interactive, the annual gathering of some of the best and brightest Web types sharing their experience and ideas.
But it’s not all about the presentations. Truly, it’s all about proximity. Because every presenter, every leading thinker, and every attendee have plenty of time to talk with one another over meals or over a beer.
Suffice it to say, if you’re looking to get the chance to chat with the folks who are influencing the Web, this is a target rich environment.
This year, I went to SXSW with the intention of learning more about other entrepreneurial communities. To uncover ways that other metropolitan areas were trying to make their communities stronger in order to capitalize on the talent of creative developers.
I managed to make some great connections and learn a thing or two. Here’s what I took away from the conversations.
Portland is not a special snowflake
It’s no secret that I think we’ve got a phenomenal Web, mobile, and open source community. I think the mix we’ve got is special. And there’s little doubt that I think we have the single most amazing technology community anywhere.
But I also admit that I may be a little biased.
Still, for all the love I have for Portland, we’re not unique in our struggles to foster an entrepreneurial community that helps the brilliant people of the Silicon Forest earn a living doing something that they love.
There are communities all over the US trying to make this work. Some of them are taking steps similar to Portland. Some of them are coming up with new ways to deal with the solution. Folks from Asheville, NC, are finding ways to fund projects with government dollars. Boulder is running a series of Ignites that are continuing to draw the community together time and time again. People in Houston and Kansas City are using coworking spaces to get members of the community working together and sharing ideas. DC is using things like Tech Cocktail to help facilitate connections—and the tech scene is getting the opportunity to advise the local government on issues. And the guys at Silicon Prairie News are pulling in some amazing speakers for Big Omaha, an event that will help solidify their entrepreneurial community.
I’m hoping to spend more time with these folks over the coming months, visiting their communities, learning more about what they’re doing, and sharing more about what Portland is doing.
It looks like the trip to Seattle Lunch 2.0 was just the first of many diplomatic missions.
Funding for Portland projects must come from investors in Portland
Another conversation that repeated itself throughout the conference was the discussion about how to fund an entrepreneurial environment. And time and time again it came back to one simple point: for funding to work, it has to be local.
Now this works one of two ways. You either make your locality where the money is—by moving to the Valley for example—or you find local money to fund your project, local angels to invest in startups, and local funds to support larger investments.
Obviously, I’m leaning toward the latter. (And that’s what makes tonight’s Nedspace event especially well timed.)
Portland has a great deal in common with China
You heard me right. Yes, yes. It surprised me, too.
I didn’t intentionally go to the conference to learn about the entrepreneurial environment in China. But as I began to learn more and more about it, I realized that the Portland startup scene had a great deal in common with the Chinese startup environment.
They’re building phenomenal products in China that none of us know about. They’re pushing technology in ways that rival or eclipse our ability to deploy it. China is perceived to have a wealth of development talent that outside companies want to tap. They’re attracting more and more entrepreneurs who see China as a land of opportunity. And the Chinese want to do business—but they want to do it on their terms.
Sounds pretty familiar to me.
Portland can succeed in Portland’s own way
Finally, the overarching theme of the conference sounded eerily similar to something I’ve tried to champion in Portland: Work hard at doing what you love and you will succeed.
No matter if it’s Zappos shipping happiness or Gary Vaynerchuk hustling wine or a bunch of volunteers putting together an open source conference or the Bac’n guys selling premium pig parts. It doesn’t matter. Doing what you love—and working your ass off to do it—will lead to success.
And I don’t know anyone who works harder at doing what they love than the folks in the Portland startup scene.
Thanks, again, SXSW for making me think even more about Portland
So that’s what I got out of SXSW, this year. No doubt the 60+ Portland types who were there each got something completely different out of it.
But that’s the magic of SXSW. And that’s the primary reason I’ll keep going back to SXSW as many times as I can.
So I go all the way down to Texas to think about Portland some more. But that’s just how I am. Did I make some incorrect intuitive leaps? Do you disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.