Sometimes you need some distance to gain perspective.
I’m writing today from a small cafe in a remote town in Colorado, a week after attending yet another amazing SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.
Once again, SXSW was incredibly informative and inspirational, highlighting cutting edge innovation and thinking from industry leaders and up-and-comers.
But, for me at least, the most noticeable thing at SXSW was what was missing, especially in the enormous Trade Show hall. As usual there were dozens of exhibitors with new technology, plenty of robotics, 3D printing, drones and marketing software.
But this year the Trade Show seemed to be dominated by countries and regions sharing their own tech industry news and start-ups. They were encouraging to 30,000 plus cashed-up, highly educated and entrepreneurial visitors to come and do business with them, to relocate, to support their start-up businesses, to invest.
Besides the many states and regions of the USA on display, there were impressive stands for countries including Ireland, Great Britain, Brasil, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.
Who was missing? Australia. No display, no presence at the world’s biggest technology festival.
In fact the only sign of Australia was the smattering of Aussie accents wandering the city. Many of us made the pilgrimage to Austin to learn more and do business. (In fact, I picked up several business opportunities of my own simply by attending and chatting to people).
But the problem is that most of us are doing it ourselves, with no coordinated industry of government support. It really hit home to me that Australia runs a real risk of being left behind in the modern tech revolution. While we are still arguing the toss over high-speed broadband and seeing little government support of innovation, the rest of the world is taking bold steps to be at the forefront of the new economy.
And here is some perspective on why Australia needs to have a presence at SXSW (and other events…this isn’t just about SXSW) and also fostering similar events at home…..
The impact of SXSW 2014 on the city of Austin’s economy was revealed to be a staggering $315 million.
SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest told the Austin Business Journal that the figure is roughly 65% of the impact that a city like New Orleans sees from hosting the Super Bowl. It’s nearly a third of the net impact that the 2012 Olympics had on London.
And Australia was nowhere to be seen.
To me it is symbolic of the lack of importance our country is placing upon innovation.
This weekend I will be meeting up with some Australians who have relocated to Boulder, Colorado to work on their own start-ups. They’re in Boulder because of the exciting start-up community and tech network and positive spirit of innovation.
I’m sure I’ll be inspired by what I see, but depressed when I think of how far behind Australia is falling.