ATX Man gets the scoop from our 2014 spring cover man, Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive Conference.
By Hugh Forrest
2015 looks to be another big year for the South By Southwest Interactive Festival. We are very excited about a strong lineup of panels and solo presentations, with featured speakers ranging from Eric Schmidt of Google, to digital anthropologist Genevieve Bell to best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. The five keynote speakers for 2015 provide a particular point of view. Three of these keynotes are women (Paola Antonelli, Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud and Martine Rothblatt), and this year marks our first-ever keynote speaker from the Middle East (Princess Reema).
Perhaps the biggest single change for this year’s event is the addition of the new JW Marriott Hotel at Fourth Street and Congress Avenue. With four floors of meeting space, this venue will host the highest number of sessions for 2015. Beyond all the panels and solo presentations, the JW Marriott will serve as home for the SXSW Job Market on March 12 and 13. (The SXSW Job Market is free to attend; no badge is required.) The JW Marriott will also be the site of the new SX Health and MedTech Expo on March 16 and 17. The addition of this exhibition to the SXSW lineup plays well with the Dell Medical School and the city’s fast-growing bio- tech ecosystem.
The presence of the JW Marriott also allows us to double the size of Startup Village at the Hilton Austin Hotel. For 2015, Startup Village will occupy both the fourth and sixth floors of this venue, and this increase in size reflects the continued strength of the global startup community. Yes, we said global. Much of the increase in startup-related programming for 2015 is a result of the significant increase in international participation at SXSW. More and more people from throughout the world want to be part of what makes Austin awesome in the spring. And the new direct flight from Heathrow to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport makes this international participation easier than ever before.
Other new elements for the 2015 event include food-focused programming at the Driskill Hotel (appropriately named SouthBites), as well as more fashion-oriented sessions at the JW Marriott under the SXstyle moniker. SXsports enters year two, but will move to a new venue, the Four Seasons. This year, extended, in-depth workshop programming (re-locating to the JW Marriott) becomes easier than ever to access. We are also very happy that the diversity-related sessions that focus on the black and Latino experience in technology will now be housed at the Austin Convention Center.
Confused and overwhelmed by all the new elements at this year’s event? Don’t be. At its core, SXSW Interactive hasn’t changed since it launched way back in the dark ages of 1994. Forget the new names, the new venues and the new gadgets; the focus on very creative people making important one-on-one, career-enhancing connections with other very creative people hasn’t changed much during the last 20-plus years. Match that goal with the abundance of year-round creativity in Austin, and you have the formula for another magical March.
Forrest photo by Andrew Chan. SXSWi photos by Vanessa Velazquez and Rich Denis