TECHNOLOGY

SXSW’s Vegas spinoff tops attendance goals

V2V producer ‘thrilled’ over event, which drew nearly 1,500 and will likely return next year.

By Omar L. Gallaga OGALLAGA@STATESMAN.COM

South by Southwest V2V, the first foray by SXSW Interactive outside the city of Austin, was history Wednesday as the new Las Vegas-based conference concluded four days of panels, mentor sessions and entertainment.

V2V, a spinoff conference aimed at tech entrepreneurs, appeared to be a success in its debut year. With a modest initial goal of about 1,000 attendees, SXSW Interactive director Hugh Forrest said V2V drew nearly 1,500 to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and is expected to continue next year.

While there was plenty of programming and hallway chatter around venture funding, social media strategy and the entrepreneurship strategy, much of the conversation focused on the efforts to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. Attendees were shuttled to mixers, SXSW music showcases and even a screening of a violent Alamo Drafthouse movie in downtown Las Vegas. It’s where Zappos Chief Executive Tony Hsieh is leading a $350 million

Downtown Project effort to attract startups as well as support businesses to create a hip, livable community for thousands of tech workers.

In an opening keynote presentation on Monday, Hsieh described the vision as a mashup of South by Southwest culture, TED talks and Burning Man, a place where creative “Collisions” would happen all the time. It’s a model, he said, that could eventually be replicated in other cities.

The Downtown Project, Hsieh said, has purchased 140 Tesla Motors vehicles for car sharing and is launching Life Is Beautiful, a music, food, arts and learning festival that will take place in late October.

On Tuesday, AOL co-founder Steve Case, who now heads up the venture firm Revolution, provided a savvy look at the tech industry in an on-stage interview with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin. Case stressed partnerships, regional entrepreneurism opportunities and overhauling immigration laws to provide workers for not only the tech industry but for vital areas such as health care.

About 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies “were started by immigrants,” Case said. “We’ve got to go all-in on startups and entrepreneurs.”

Case also issued a warning to those focused too closely on Silicon Valley. “We should pay attention to Detroit; 60 years ago, Detroit used to be Silicon Valley” in terms of innovation, Case said.

On Wednesday, fashion entrepreneur Lauren Bush Lauren, CEO and founder of FEED Projects, was scheduled to speak with Inc. Magazine’s Donna Fenn about social entrepreneurship. A closing party was scheduled to happen Wednesday night at Hyde, a nightclub at the Bellagio.

Christine Auten, SXSW producer of V2V, said the event went “very, very well.”

“We’re very excited about the creativity, the energy, the inspiration at this event. For our first year, we couldn’t be more thrilled with the turnout,” Auten said. “Everybody seems to be really happy.”

The word that was frequently used to describe V2V among attendees was “intimate.” Compared to the March SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, which this year drew 30,621, V2V was positively tiny, with plenty of space in panel rooms and a manageable schedule that kept attendees from having to choose from dozens of overlapping options in different venues.

The format of full panels, keynotes and shorter “20/20 Vision” presentations as well as one-on-one mentoring sessions gave V2V conferencegoers plenty to think about while open networking spaces and evening events that brought some of the flavor of the Austin fest to Las Vegas (obscure bands, open bars, people wearing Google Glass!).

It didn’t all go without a hitch. Some networking events suffered in attendance perhaps due to abundant distractions in Las Vegas and a film screening of “Cheap Thrills,” presented by SXSW Film director Janet Pierson was plagued by audio problems and had to be restarted twice.

But attendees appeared to find V2V to be a comfortable mix; some panels, especially Q&A sessions with the keynote speakers, were well-attended and the Twitter hashtag #SXSWV2V was heavily used this week.

SXSW Interactive has announced no formal plans for a 2014 SXSW V2V conference or whether it may expanding the festival to other cities. Registration for the March SXSW Interactive in Austin, however, has opened up.

Contact Omar L. Gallaga at 512-445-3672. Twitter: @ omarg