In 2009, the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive coordinators decided to carve out a corner of the conference where those people interested in start-ups, emerging technology, and entrepreneurship could gather.
At the time, this wasn’t necessarily a popular move. For years the conference focused on emerging technologies, media, and creative endeavors. The thought of turning SXSW into a business conference concerned some long-time attendees.
As part of that move SXSW quietly launched Accelerator, a program in which early-stage companies from across the globe would compete to convince a panel of venture capitalists, media experts, and business leaders that their idea was worth funding.
Early on there wasn’t much promotion. It was a mad scramble just to pull everything together in a professional manner. To do the heavy lifting, Hugh Forrest tapped Chris Valentine, who then set about creating the program, organizing the logistics, and working with sponsors.
Since I knew my way around the conference and was readily accessible, I was asked to co-emcee the all-day event. My job was simple: shepherd the start-up companies on and off stage, keep the show running on time, and make sure that all of our judges and co-emcees had the chance to ask questions.
Six years later the Accelerator has grown into an amazing part of the SXSW Interactive universe. Some 56% of the companies that participated have received funding, and all told those companies have raised $587 million, including companies such as Klout and (now Apple’s) Siri.
Whenever people ask me what I do at SXSW these days, this is the story that I tell.
In our first year my co-emcee was Guy Kawasaki, who started at Apple in 1983 before leaving to become a technology evangelist.
While our program started small, Guy’s participation and insights helped generate a great deal of buzz around the program. In between sessions, people lined up to get a few moments with him (and our winners were more than stoked to have the chance to get a picture).