Looking out over downtown Austin’s skyline from the top of the Omni Hotel, the Capital Factory office space is populated with plush beanbag chairs, endless desk space and 85 tech startups. From mobile email apps to weather-tracking software, these companies create technology solutions for other businesses and general consumers alike. As a local “tech incubator,” Capital Factory sells the resources and mentoring services necessary for small businesses to develop their products.
For many startups, South By Southwest is a chance to catch the eye of potential investors and attract new customers. In pitch events like the SXSW Startup Accelerator, companies will pitch their product ideas to audience members in hopes of attracting angel investors to help launch their businesses.
When Josh Baer first attended the festival five years ago, the SXSW Startup Accelerator was the only pitch event available to entrepreneurs. The popularity of these programs has since grown, and now, as the managing director of Capital Factory, Baer is hosting his own event on Friday, March 8. He also noted that the Startup Accelerator is a bit of a misnomer.
“The most popular use of that word … is an intense program that helps ‘accelerate’ a startup over a period of time with mentoring and with some funding, usually culminating in a demo day,” Baer said. “The SXSW Accelerator … is only a pitch competition.”
The “Startup Village,” a small section of downtown Austin dedicated to startup events like Capital Factory’s, will center on the Hilton Hotel Grand Ballroom, which can hold more than 1,000 people at a time.
The big feature of Capital Factory’s event is the “Move Your Startup to Austin” competition, where six startups from around the world will pitch their product ideas to a panel of judges and investors. Companies from as far away as India will compete for a hefty prize that is aimed at bringing more tech startups to the Austin area.
“The prize is worth more than $100,000. We’ve got a $35,000 actual cash investment, but also a house to live in, office space, groceries, server hosting. There’s a whole ton of stuff we’re giving them,” Baer said.
Although Capital Factory’s event will only last one day during SXSW, the company’s downtown office will serve as a VIP lounge for the remainder of the festival. Invited guests will be able to hold meetings, use the Internet and enjoy the view from the top of the Omni Hotel.
SXSW’s marketing department anticipates that about 65,000 people will attend the Trade Show exhibit, a portion of the festival dedicated to business promotion.
One of the six local startup companies that will be featured by Capital Factory at SXSW is Taskbox, a company that has designed a more mobile-friendly email app for the iPhone. Andrew Eye, the CEO and founder of Taskbox Mail, said that this is his third startup.
“We started this [company] up in June of last year,” Eye said. “What we’re focused on is helping people with email while they’re on the go. So this past year, for the first time in history, mobile email opens exceeded desktop email opens; people now read more email on their smartphones than they do at their desks.”
The mobile application, which is currently available on the iTunes App Store, helps users navigate and prioritize a high volume of emails. According to Eye, the app requires fewer gestures and is easier to view on the iPhone than the standard mail app.
Eye’s Austin-based company is excited to use SXSW as a way to promote its product and gauge customer satisfaction.
“We’re launching our 2.0 version of the application, so we’re really excited about the fact that the world comes to Austin for South By,” Eye said. “Getting to see how people react to our latest product release, I’d say that’s at the top of our minds.”