SXSW Accelerator Finalists Announced, and a Glimpse of the Process

January 29, 2013.  Among the many events worth your time at SXSW is the Accelerator competition.  The 48 interactive finalists who will present on the Monday and Tuesday (March 11-12) of SXSW were announced today.  Eight companies in each of 6 categories were selected, along with 3 alternates in each of those categories.  On Wednesday the 8 music finalists will present, those also backed up by 3 alternates.

All 48 interactive finalists will present on Monday, and there will be a showdown of the best 18 on Tuesday.  These are my preferred types of presentations, each of specified duration with an all-star cast of on-stage judges who are never bashful about asking questions and giving advice.  There are noteworthy prizes for the ultimate winners, not to mention the connections and publicity that result from being in this setting.  I’ve always thought that most of the venture money in the US and abroad is represented somewhere at SXSW, and you’ll see much of it in this particular venue.

This is my third consecutive year at this event.  Last year I served as an Advisory Board member, which meant I got to grade a selection of the companies that applied in areas where I have domain knowledge.  I also coached three companies between the time of announcement and SXSW.  That was not simple drive-by advice; it required numerous iterations with each team to get to know them and nudge them on point for this level of competition.  And, coaches can even recommend bumping a finalist in favor of an alternate if major problems are discovered at this stage.

This year I was invited also to be part of an initial screening process to be sure that applicants conform to the stated rules, which meant I got to examine ALL of the more than 500 entrants in a relatively short period of time in November.  The SXSW Accelerator is designed for companies with products and services not released more than one year ahead and not already having raised mind-boggling amounts of capital.   SXSW is looking for fresh deals with teams motivated to present at this event, and not all applicants read the rules very carefully. 

The point of this post is that I have come to appreciate that SXSW Accelerator, like all aspects of SXSW, is pretty much a continuous process that requires an enormous amount of community involvement.  The organizer Chris Valentine has assembled a global advisory board that helps source candidates and eventually grades the applicants to determine the best of the batch.  He also goes to many national events like TC Disrupt to scout for talented teams with promising young companies.  Getting a great pool of applicants is not something left to chance, even with the history this event has going for it.  There’s a very intense outreach to fill up a funnel that delivers presentations and concepts that will intrigue you.

If you have a bent for pattern recognition, looking at so many plans from around the world makes you appreciate how many creative ideas are out there and what technology trends seem to be attracting the most entrepreneurial energy.  It also makes you realize how many duplicates will show up in a batch of this size.  They’re not repetitive applications by the same company, they’re the same idea coming from completely different sources.  Often the wording of their descriptions is nearly verbatim.  Last year I recall seeing a plethora of social networks related to pet interests; this year it was something else – the pet lovers must have been served in the interim.  I think I saw one plan nearly 50 times, but I won’t describe it for fear of offending someone or that it might ultimately be bigger than Google.

The geographic diversity is interesting, and it actually includes no finalist from Austin.  Here’s my tabulation of finalists, including Music, by location:

48 United States

  • 17 CA
  • 7 MA
  • 5 NY
  • 3 IL
  • 2 MO
  • 2 TX
  • 3 VA
  • 2 WA
  • 1 DC
  • 1 FL
  • 1 GA
  • 1 MD
  • 1 NC
  • 1 OH
  • 1 OR

8 International

  • 3 UK
  • 2 Canada
  • 1 Ireland
  • 1 Spain
  • 1 Sweden

While this global show is underway, there will be multiple other pitch sessions and demo days in and around SXSW.  One household-name investor mentioned last year that he was booked for a 2 AM judging on some panel at a 6th Street bar.  So, there will be plenty of chances to see local companies, and there will be busloads driven in from other jurisdictions around the US.  If you ever want to see the world’s best pitches, get yourself to Austin in March.  Just bring your own tent if you don’t already have lodging.  My couch is claimed.

In the next day or two I’ll get my coaching assignments and begin that process.  And, it won’t be long after March that work will begin anew for SXSW Accelerator 2014.  I’m looking forward to it.

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