Bolo Ties and Big Data: SXSW Takes Austin

An unconventional city, an iconic festival, and the unbreakable bond between them


Since 1986, the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, TX, has become almost as historic as the city that hosts it. Once an excuse to cobble together live local music acts, SXSW quickly evolved into a destination for creative thinkers, tech gurus, and talented artists. And the pull to exchange ideas, showcase the latest innovations, and, you guessed it, serenade the masses keeps people coming back in droves.

So how exactly does the city, which prides itself on being weird, fuel the festival’s incredible success? Each spring, it merges its traditional roots with its unconventional side to create the perfect platform for a one-of-a-kind gathering.

It starts with the economy. You may not believe it, but the capital of Texas is a hotbed for entrepreneurs and small businesses fixated on technology. While other cities are built on the backs of agriculture, fossil fuels and other traditional blue-collared jobs, Austin is home to some of the biggest names in tech. Amazon, Dell, and IBM are some of the more well-known players, and peppered around them are a number of young and hungry start-ups that have their eyes set on something greater.

Like a modern-day gold rush, more and more entrepreneurs are packing up their Silicon Valley digs, and heading south-east for Austin’s Silicon Hills. Why? “Austin has a lot going for it,” says Cognilytica senior analyst and SXSW interactive judge, Kathleen Walch. “It’s more affordable than the Bay Area, very family friendly, has access to talent, and some very successful companies and mentors.” As Walch notes, those factors play a huge role in forming a thriving tech and start-up ecosystem.

“Don’t forget about the University of Texas at Austin,” says Walch’s colleague Ron Schmelzer, also a senior analyst at Cognilytica and SXSW interactive judge. And he’s right. The university has built a stellar reputation through its engineering, business and tech incubator programs which are perennially viewed as major beacons for bright young minds. Every semester, the school receives applications from prospective students worldwide who are eager to contribute new perspectives and fresh ideas to the digital landscape.

And while the city is populated by nearly one million people from all different walks of life, Austin does a seemingly effortless job of feeling free, open, and inclusive to everyone. If there’s one thing Austinites keep traditional, it’s southern hospitality. Especially when tech is involved. Entrepreneurs and engineers regularly rub elbows, sharing job referrals, investment leads, or the coordinates to the hottest new taco joint. It’s that kind of collaboration and exchanging of ideas that is the cornerstone of the SXSW festival, and a colorful example of Austin’s southern manners.

Even Austin’s music scene has been impacted by the tech boom. “SXSW is first and foremost a music event.” says Schmelzer. “Then the tech powerhouses setup shop here and it quickly became noted for its tech scene.” The combination of technology and music? Well, that’s what makes SXSW so special. And more importantly what makes Austin so unique. Throughout the week of the conference, “The Live Music Capital of the World” hosts keynote speakers and demos in some of the city’s famous venues during the day, and by night they entertain guests with live performances. In fact, for four consecutive years, Capital One and Antone’s Nightclub in downtown Austin have partnered to offer that very experience.

At Antone’s, Capital One has unveiled numerous new products and services designed to bring customers closer to their finances, like Eno, the first natural language SMS chatbot from a U.S. bank. Or the launch of Alexa Skill with Amazon, which made us the first bank to introduce voice activated money management to consumers.

It’s easy to connect the dots and see how SXSW has evolved from mere music festival into a full-fledged creative conference featuring some of the most influential and inventive people in their respected industry. The eclectic, forward-thinking city, offers a little something for everyone. A tech-centered economy. A culture of creative and like-minded thinkers. And a hip vibe that gives even the coolest cities a run for their money.

So, why is Capital One a part of SXSW? “Being a part of SXSW, means you’re getting in front of the very audience you’re trying to connect with,” says Walch. “I always look forward to visiting the Capital One House to see the latest technology released.” It’s that upfront presence that helps break the traditional stereotype associated with banks.

Just like Austin takes an unconventional approach compared to its southern peers, Capital One takes an unconventional approach from ours, too. And together—through festivals like SXSW—we’re both showcasing the power behind the people, the culture and the technology that drives us.


These opinions are those of author. Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are the ownership of their respective owners. This article is © 2018 Capital One.