Philly Tech Loved SXSW. SXSW Loved Philly Tech Back

Tracey Welson-Rossman's report from the networking trenches of SXSW's "Philly Alley."

Photos | Ken Rimple

Photos | Ken Rimple

The Philadelphia tech and startup scene made its way down to Austin last week for South by Southwest — better known as SXSW. As an interactive-focused conference-turned-festival, SXSW is one of the largest gatherings of leaders and organizations spanning the technological, design and creative realms.

For the first time this year, a concerted effort has been made to spread the message of Philadelphia’s growing tech culture and the vibrant innovation coming from our region — and what better place to do so than right at SXSW. With that goal in mind, a solid group of Philadelphia’s tech leaders decided to head south and represent the great things brewing in Philadelphia’s emerging tech scene. So, why, exactly, did 10 companies and close to 200 Philadelphians (including Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, Zivtech, my own Chariot Solutions, and others) decide it was worth the time, effort, and money to make the trek to Texas?

I asked Yuval Yarden, program director for Philly Startup Leaders, and one of the driving forces behind the push to spread the word, what she felt the main goal of organizing this coalition was. Yuval summed it up well: It is time for the Philadelphia region to to a better job telling our story.

“We feel SXSW is the best opportunity for our tech community to tell its story since Philadelphia is becoming known as a tech and innovation hub, housing not just software companies, but all types of technology,” Yarden said. “We love that there have been many articles as of late touting Philadelphia’s music, culture and restaurant scene, but we want to make sure Philadelphia is also known for its startups. We are here to discuss why Philadelphia is a great place to start and grow a tech company.”

Reflecting on my own experience, Chariot Solutions has not exhibited at a large trade show in 10 years. Why did we decide to attend SXSW? The answer is two-fold: We wanted to support the Philly tech community; but we also wanted to meet companies and people who were looking to build and create innovative projects and who could use our help to do so. Sure, we were learning a ton at the conference, but the networking opportunities for Philly tech firms at SXSW are immense. For us — based on the advice of Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg, one of the founders of Zivtech who had been to SXSW several times — networking is exactly what we would achieve.

“From the outside SXSW — with tens of thousands of people, with eight days of incredibly diverse events, spread out over dozens of miles — seems like a terrible place to make and build relationships. But from my first minutes at my first SXSW (2012), the conference has been incredibly productive for Zivtech, leading to new and stronger business relationships,” says Urevick-Ackelsberg.

Since so many of us were coming, the SXSW planning team created a “Philly Alley” — a space of all-Philly exhibitors anchored by Philly Startup Leaders and REC Philly. Both of these groups held down the fort — and even hosted and coordinated a music event on Tuesday outside of the trade show, which was a great way to tie in the business to the creative side of SXSW. The message of #AmplifyPhilly was also a focus; Philly Alley had a rotating cast of Philadelphia leaders like Danielle Cohn of Comcast, Laurie Actman of UPenn and Rick Nucci of Guru, who helped answer questions about the Philadelphia community. The booth also had great guest appearances by startups including ROAR for Good, Habitat, and Loop It.

So, the big question remains — did we achieve our goals? The Chariot booth had plenty of opportunities to talk to people about our business and why we love Philadelphia. With that, I believe we achieved both of our goals. I noticed how the attendees realized the “alley” was all Philadelphia based companies, and gave a reaction that was extremely positive and showed their surprise with the amount of companies who had come down from the city.

I also did not hear one Rocky or cheesesteak reference, and nowhere to be found was a negative comment about Philadelphia itself. What I kept hearing, instead, were comments like, “I was in Philadelphia recently and there was too much to do and see, I need to go back” or “I was there for the 30 under 30 Forbes conference and was really impressed with how the city treated us” or “I am really impressed with the variety of businesses represented here.”

For myself, I know Chariot will be back in Austin next March and I certainly believe there will be more Philadelphia tech companies alongside us. Learning the impression of Philadelphia from those outside of our region proved to be a greater experience than one might think.

Tracey Welson-Rossman is the CMO of Chariot Solutions and the founder of TechGirlz. Follow her on Twitter at @TWelsonRossman.