Last night, I got to experience the bro-tastic startup culture first hand at SXSW’s Accelerator Awards ceremony, where startups were given prizes for making the best pitches and presenting their business ideas in front of a panel of venture capitalist judges.
According to the organizers, 500 startups entered the competition, which was whittled down to 75, and then further culled to 18 finalists who got to present at SXSW. There were six categories for the startups, including entertainment and content, healthcare, innovative world (which even the host had a hard time trying to explain,) wearable tech and social.
Immediately I was struck by how packed the room was and how different the audience demographics were compared to some of the other sessions I had attended at SXSW. The room was packed wall to wall, with young twenty somethings, and their energy and excitement was palpable. Unlike the polished, advertising/marketing hipsters millenials everywhere else in the conference, this room was filled with tech nerds, tech bros and earnest enthusiasm. This wasn’t a “how to do things better” type session, (of which there are many at SXSW.) It was a room with people who were genuinely excited not just to present their own ideas, but to see what everyone else was doing.
Before the individual winners for competition were announced, there was a separate award reserved for “one-minute” pitches, where startups that hadn’t made it to the finals were still allowed to come up on stage and tell the audience about their business for one-minute. I thought this would barely give them any time, but turns out, 60 seconds is more than enough to tell people what your startup does and how it solves a major problem.
The one-minute pitches were highly entertaining, and I was pretty impressed by the advanced level of technology these very young people were dealing in. The speakers ranged from quiet nerds who with very rehearsed speeches to frat bros who were brash, loud and slightly annoying.
Some of the more interesting startups (especially for marketers) were:
ShopStoree: A platform which tries to replicate physical in-store shopping experiences with immersive visuals online.
Cinematique: An interactive video technology that creates “touchable video,” where you can touch objects within a video and immediately access content or information related to it.
SocialGlimpz: Sort of like Jelly, with a marketing twist. Brands ask questions (of a targeted audience), users come back with visual content as answers, brands get to use that content to added promotion.
Blab: Predictive social analytics platform that will tell you what the trending topics will be before they start trending.
So who won? There’s a complete list of winners for all the categories here. But for me, it was all about the team that took the prize for the Best Social Technology app was an Israeli startup called Samba.me, which I’ve written about in more detail here. Basically, it’s like Snapchat, where you can send someone a temporary video, instead of a picture. But as an added feature, when the recipient views what you’ve sent them, their smartphone will automatically make a video of their reaction, and send it back to you. Samba.me co-founder Barak Hachamov charmingly used his own app when accepting the award by sending a video of the entire crowd cheering to his family back home, (conceivably he got their video of their reaction too.)
Despite the positive energy in the room, I couldn’t help but notice how the stereotypes about startups were so unfortunately true, and it was more apparent with so many of them in a room together. Out of the 30 odd startups on display, the overwhelming majority of the founders were young, white males, with a smattering of Indians and a handful of Asians. There was only one female.
It’s obviously not the fault of the startups that they were founded by a white male, and I personally don’t believe it is active discrimination that keeps minorities out of startup leadership roles, (although at least one venture capitalist has been accused of discriminating against founders with accents.) But it really does highlight the need for more programs and better educational opportunities so that there’s more diversity among the people who want to get into this field.