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Gavin O'Flaherty, who just attended his 3rd SxSWi in a row, has wrote his thoughts on this year's event below.
Irish Government steps
The foresight of the Irish government in setting up the IDA office next to the EI offices on Congress Avenue in Austin and also supporting the appointment as Adrian Farrell as Counsel General also based in Austin is really beginning to bear fruit. Staffing the office with Irish people who have lived in the US and have built-in expertise in dealing with the US psyche is a real help.
White Hot Competition
I went behind "enemy" lines to the UK House at SxSWi and their offering is certainly impressive which highlights the ongoing flaws in attracting investment to Ireland which are the high personal tax rate and the failure to properly incentivise entrepreneurs. The situation is improving but it needs to.
US investor requirements
There can be a tendency for Irish companies to roll over and have their tummy tickled when a US investor requires that the investment must be made into a US corporate. There can, of course, be regulatory requirements that justify such a move but various discussions I had around the conference flagged that any such requirement should be stress tested at all times given the cost involved in a flip up type arrangement – query is it strictly required or is it a nice to have? The recent King Digital deal highlighted the clear benefit in that transaction of having an Irish incorporated target entity - why should this be different for smaller emerging companies?
Bravery of Irish companies
You have to admire the bravery of the Irish companies who join with Simone Boswell and the EI team, man the desks at the EI stands and embrace the SxSWi festival. It is not an easy task by any stretch of imagination but to see the energy and excitement of companies like Firstage, Kong Digital, KantanMT and Openback (to name but a few) revives the spirits and continues to give great hope for the future.
Access to Capital
The rocketing costs of living in the Silicon Valley is going to see other areas such as Austin continue to grow exponentially. A vital part of that will be access to substantial venture capital funding in the area (which Silicon Valley still trumps Austin on to some extent). The ongoing development of domestic and local VC houses in Austin is clearly taking shape with local VC houses like Silverton Capital supporting exciting local start-ups such as Favor and also supporting the vibrant Capital Factory with early stage funding.
The cross-fertilisation of experts within the Austin based community such as Josh Baer from the afore-mentioned Capital Factory who also sits on the boards of some emerging companies based in Austin has resulted in the development of a collegiality which is not necessarily standard in other areas.
Keep Austin Weird
While we rightfully treasure our reputation as being the friendliest place on earth, the people in Austin really do push us close. They embrace the festival in a collective manner. While I am sure there are gripes for locals as will always happen with the amount of closures which take place, I have had great conversations with local people in everywhere from coffee shops to q'ing for magnificent food from a food truck.
Service providers carrying the load
While, of course we are all in the game to get paid, service providers need to do their bit to try and help the efforts to attract in investment to Ireland and this is why it was great for us here in Eversheds to be given the chance to support, along with KPMG and Bank of Ireland, the amazing exhibition of Irish culture put on by Noeleen, Sharon and all the team in Macnas on the centre-piece Saturday evening event along Austin's vibrant Sixth Street – see video above.
As a couple of presentations I attended emphasised, it is a total waste of the efforts of starting business in the US if a regulatory breach is allowed to occur. The US is heavily regulated - it does not have the general data protection law which we have in Europe and separate industries have specific data protection requirements such as, for example, the HIPAA regulations which apply to operators in the healthcare industry. Red tape sadly has to be complied with.
Celebrate and learn from failure
The Start Up wake hosted by Niamh Bushnell at which speakers like the promoter of Circa spoke of their experiences followed on from previous talks on this line which Paul Hayes had hosted back home - we can all learn from failure. The maxim “fail fast” was also mentioned at several talks – we probably suffer in Ireland when looking for VC funding, for example, with the concept of death by a thousand goodbyes.
Tech gold rush
The growth of Austin year on year is stunning to witness. A modern day gold rush is taking place there and Ireland stands to benefit if it remains close to this tide of growth.
Sectors of growth
The fact that the conference had a separate accelerator competition for wearable technology indicates its position as an area of growth.
Poor old RDS!!
As the people on the EI stand can attest to, the wifi in the Convention centre at SxSWi was quite patchy - I hope Lisbon takes note!
Other US Tech Hubs
It's not all Silicon Valley and these new tech hubs - I used the lack of a direct flight to drop into Chicago on the way over. A hard working city with a huge amount of building going on in it. We also dropped into emerging company hubs such as the 1871 building in which entities like Techstars are based. Following on from my point above about advisers giving back, we also visited Catapult which is a co-working space hosted by a US law firm - we met a few exciting young firms there which already had international plans.
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This article also appears on https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/irish-musings-sxswi-2016-gavin-o-flaherty?trk=prof-post