From sea to shining sea, the entrepreneurial spirit and vision upon which America was founded has come barreling back, in all of its post-economic meltdown and war-torn glory.
Austin-based SXSW is all the proof I need. What started as a music festival has grown into a somewhat oversubscribed conference that manages to attract the world's greatest minds like Al Gore and Elon Musk to (as a good friend describes it) the "homeless startup guy" who will spend $100 on drinks but refuses to pitch in for his share of the hotel room. And let's not forget random folks like Coolio.
It is a precise microcosm of our current entrepreneurial and economic environment -- both overwhelming and exciting, and has me remembering: "we're all in this together, man."
For those angling to make the pilgrimage next year, the challenge of SXSW is to cut through the noise (literally). You'll want to absorb the extraordinary conversations taking place in old saw mills, underground speakeasies and hotel lounges to get to the root of what really matters -- that is, how to finagle key resources and lay the foundation for future opportunities.
Direct from the sweaty, chaotic front lines of SXSW and beyond the indie bands, independent films and interactive experiences, here are four things I believe every entrepreneur should know:
1. Starting up America
This year, Startup America, Startup Weekend, American Express and Microsoft joined forces to build #StartupLive as part of the Startup Village. Are you sensing a theme here? The genius of this experience was to provide a place for entrepreneurs to increase the likelihood of meeting "people that matter." Or in other words, a home base for all things…you guessed it…startup in America related.
In addition to a slew of panels, with topics ranging from funding to marketing, lean-startup methodology pioneer Steve Blank was "in the house" coaching a handful of entrepreneurs through his customer development program. Bonus: he was also giving away his new, must-read book The Startup Owner's Manual.
The takeaway: Both Startup America and Startup Weekend are providing hands-on opportunities for young entrepreneurs across the country to get plugged in to their local startup communities. Not only will they provide the support and framework for building a sustainable business, but also their human network is important for accelerating growth and learning.
2. The Internet of Things
Social. Local. Mobile. Cloud. "SoLoMoClo." If you are in the conceptual stages of building a company that touts one of these themes as your innovation capstone I have three words: Time to pivot. Why? You've missed the boat. These things are now ubiquitous. Unless you are providing a technology or service to connect or increase the efficiency of these things, or providing a big data or prediction element, you will be met with a tsunami of early innovation competitors who now have the capital and adoption to eat you for lunch.
Where are the opportunities? Well, although the barriers to entry are a bit higher, hardware is certainly making a comeback. As Leap Motion's consumer friendly motion sensors proved this weekend. This is the future of innovation, and it's exhilarating.
3. The Business of Human Capital
During a brief conversation with Microsoft BizSpark's Doug Crets, he adeptly described an emerging theme in the startup world, validated by activity during SXSW: "I see a focus on business…entrepreneurs looking to create long-term sustainable solutions to systemic problems in the business world. There has been a recent shift to finding people to solve problems, rather than looking to technology to solve a problem."
So what does this mean? In short, entrepreneurs will start focusing on infrastructure and processes by leveraging the wildly abundant (and cheap) technology solutions currently in existence. And people, smart people who can solve complex problems, will be a valuable asset during this re-engineering process.
4. The Nontrepreneur
As the social-innovation movement continues to prove that entrepreneurs can use their talents and profits to solve large-scale societal problems, what I found at SXSW was a unique group of nonprofit innovators who have adopted the entrepreneurial terminology around "disruption" and "lean" to facilitate another layer of social innovation.
While remaining nonprofit from an operational standpoint, organizations like Mama Hope, RYOT, Architecture for Humanity, ReAllocate and Comfort the Children still managed to coalesce around an initiative called "Stop the Pity" to reframe nonprofit work from that of victimization to empowerment. For those entrepreneurs looking to do good manner while using business principles, there is room for you.
What's the best thing you saw at SXSW Interactive this year? Let us know in the comments section below.