The popular image of the South by Southwest may still be of an excessively tattooed guitar player - or maybe a gold chained rapper - performing a corproate sponsored gig for fans filling up on free beer and greasy tacos.
Believe me, plenty of that is coming with the Music potion of SXSW kicking into gear on Tuesday, and some of it has already been underway, with D'Angelo playing a surprise Samsung supper club 5 song gig on Sunday night with Philly's own Questlove on drums, and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast previewing her new album California Nights at a PBS party.
But during the run of the Interactive conference and Film festival, most of the action takes place among start up exhibitors, would-be deal makers and self promoters of all stripes, from film stars like Ryan Gosling, who premiered his directorial debut, 'Lost River' snd sat down for a chat with Guillermo del Toro on Friday, to Sen. Rand Paul, who sold himself as the most tech friendly and least Big Brother-ish Presidential candidate on Sunday.
In keeping with the Internet philosophy that anything involving a cute animal will sell, there are no shortage of tech businesses putting a furry face on their clever idea. The much hyped streaming video app Meerkat, which launched in February, was in the news over the weekend after Twitter limited Meerkat's access to the social media app, after announcing they had bought their own streaming video service, called Periscope.
On the streets and in the Austin Convention Center, it was hard not to run into a cute critter hawking entrepeneurial wares. Wearable computers are all the rage at SXSW Interactive, which has attracted over 30,000 registrants from all over the world, and thery're not just for humans: A company called WonderWoof was demoing bow-tie shaped activity trackers for dogs.
A start-up app called Squirlbooks, which uses GPS to notify you when you're near locations mentioned in novels and non-fiction books, promoted itself with book reading humans in squirrel suits happy to pose for 'squirlfies.' The Mophie mobile phone battery company is using St. Bernard dogs to deliver rescue charges to conference goers around Austin.
Meanwhile, real business was getting done in conference rooms and hotel bars all around the Texas capitol. The SXSW Accelerator, an invitation only tech start up competition took place over the weekend at the Hilton, and it had a decidedly Philadelphia flavor.
"It's been overwhelming to see what this looks like down here,"said Elliot Menschik of DreamIt Health, a University City health tech investment company. It was his first SXSW. "Everyone descends on one place. You can really have some productive meetings. People introduce you to people you otherwise would never have met."
On Sunday afternoon, Menschik was at the Hilton to cheer on BioBots, the company founded by recent University of Pennsylvania grads Danny Cabrera, 22, and Ricardo Solorzano, 25, that makes low-cost breadbox sized 3-D Bio Printers that build human tissue and have mind blowing implications for the future of medical testing and potentially the creation of customized human organs.In the health care realm, Menschik said, BioBots could be "transformative."
BioBots was one of 48 start-ups - and only 8 in the health care sphere - chosen to compete at the Shark Tank style Accelerator. Hoping to gain investors if not actually win the competition, on Saturday Cabrera a gave a two minute pitch on BioBots to three judges, stressing its affordability and practicality. It sells for only $5000 to teaching hospitals and most other 3-D Bio printers are as big as a a one bedroom apartment.
The pitch was good enough to convince the judges to pick BioBots as one of three health care finalists, along with MobileOCT, an Israel based company with Philly connections that makes smart phone based device to test for cervical cancer, and Tinnitracks, a German outfit that enables users to listen to music of their choosing to help treat tinnitus. "You mean I can listen to AC/DC to cure my hearing?"one judge quipped.
Before BioBots found out the ultimate results, Cabrera said the trip would be invaluable. "It's great ot induce that feeling of excitement in other people, especially at a place like SX that's funding and merging all these amazing technologies. And to be able to go on stage and blow people's minds is pretty awesome."
The four members of the BioBots team "are all haveing a great time networking and exchanging ideas Cabrera said. "This is how great ideas come about, by having a forum where you can talk about what you're doing and listen to other people and go like 'What?! That's an awesome idea.' And i forgot to mention: the weather's nice, too."
After Cabrera made his second pitch to his second pitch to a different set of judges, the BioBots team eagerly awaited the results on Sunday night, though all parties agreed first place isn't the real prize. "It's not whether you win or lose," Menschik said. "It's who you meet."
When word came down at the Hilton, BioBots did not win. First place went to Tinnitracks. However, there was a surprise honor: BioBot were given a Most Innovative award "recognizing the finalist that has created a product and/or service that is thought provoking and changes the world for the better."
"We're happy to be the most innovative." Cabrera said after hearing the news. "We're going to continue innovating. And we're 100% ready to party."