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Innovation Meets Temptation: SXSW Goes to Vegas

SXSW On the Scene - 2014

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Innovation Meets Temptation: SXSW Goes to Vegas
Image credit: Marlon Jay Manuel

A new South by Southwest event has launched in Las Vegas this week, known as "Vision to Venture" or "V2V." The inaugural conference caters to the SXSW Interactive crowd, intended to help startups and innovators take their ideas to the next level. Basically, if SXSW Interactive was a night club, V2V would be its VIP area for startups.

In many ways, SXSW V2V boasts the same trappings as its much larger namesake event, SXSW in Austin. It hosts notable keynote speakers like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, AOL Co-Founder Steve Case, and FEED’s Lauren Bush. It also features a pitch competition showcasing companies in education, health, mobile, entertainment and world innovation. The contest is judged by industry executives and notable investors from firms such as Founders Fund and Mohr Davidow Ventures.

At night, the action moves away from the Strip to the Downtown Project, where attendees can revel in one of the most ambitious entrepreneurial undertakings to date. Downtown, there are hosted mixers where attendees can unwind. And of course, there are live music shows, the heritage of SXSW.

Related: Hey, Innovators and Entrepreneurs: Your Complete Guide to SXSW V2V

But make no mistake, V2V is considerably different on many fronts.

Logistically, there are roughly a thousand people in attendance for the entire event, compared to the more than 30,000 registrants at SXSW Interactive this past March. Taking advantage of its smaller size, V2V takes place on a single conference floor at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, instead of occupying various buildings all over Austin where attendees must hike around town. Attendees can conveniently dodge in and out of ballrooms and smaller conference rooms to listen to individual speakers and panels.

Fittingly for Las Vegas, V2V has a connected, intimate feeling. Free lunches are served so attendees can mingle in the common areas, and shuttles are provided to and from all evening events held away from the Cosmopolitan. Entrepreneurs can even schedule one-on-one meetings with investors and a range of subject matter experts. It’s as though the SXSW team grabbed the collaborative startup mojo from the Interactive conference and dropped it in the Cosmo for a more concentrated effect.

The environment away from the conference floor is an entirely different story. As soon as you step foot into an elevator, you are abruptly reminded that you are in the heart of Sin City. Inebriated people stumble back from the pool at 11AM, and foreign tourists who can barely see over their shopping bags amble in from the nearest Louis Vuitton. V2Vers may also indulge in the surrounding environment. After the V2V opening party wound down on Sunday night, the question for many was, "Should I hit the craps table before going to bed?"

SXSW representatives say the goal is to assemble a group of dynamic people in a great environment and allow the event to create its own identity. "In years to come, we expect to see SXSW V2V grow and play an important role in supporting the Las Vegas tech and entrepreneur communities," says Christine Auten, producer of the conference. As the inaugural event, no one really knows exactly what to expect of V2V. As AirPR’s Co-Founder and CEO Sharam Fouldagar-Mercer noted: "Because it was South by Southwest, I was excited to come check it out. The Downtown Project has breathed new life into Vegas in many ways, and I think this event will be a good indicator of the Vegas startup scene's future."

In all likelihood, SXSW V2V will attract many new attendees in the coming years. 

Related: A $50 Million Bet on Las Vegas Tech Startups

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Kai Sato is the co-founder of FieldLevel, Inc, the largest private social network for coaches to recruit athletic talent. Kai also blogs about the intersection of sports and entrepreneurship for The Huffington Post and works with nonprofits in Los Angeles.

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