AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local tech entrepreneurs say they’re “disappointed” by the decision to cancel South by Southwest (SXSW), but they’re not discouraged from moving forward with their plans regardless.
City and county leaders announced the decision Friday afternoon after days of resisting canceling the international tech, music and film festival that draws hundreds of thousands of people to Austin.
“The issue here that we found is that people are caught up in the problem,” said Jason Jepson, a partner at Deep Media Technologies. “We wanted to find a solution.”
His company had already planned to switch up its plans to protect visitors from COVID-19, the disease the new coronavirus causes, converting SXSW panel events at Dive Bar and Lounge (attracting thousands of people through online RSVPs) to recorded podcast episodes with the same speakers at the same bar.
“We have speakers coming in from all over the world,” Jepson said. “Let’s protect them, let’s protect the staff here.”
He plans to move forward with those recorded panels and release them to a worldwide audience. Another local entrepreneur, John Zozzaro, plans to keep his plans, too.
President and co-founder of Media Tech Ventures, Zozzaro is hosting an official SXSW event, Funded House, but it’s by invitation only — not open to badge-holders. He might need to adjust the plans a little, but he told KXAN he’ll move forward with regularly-scheduled programming for startups and investors.
“I find it fascinating being in the top three cities in the world for entrepreneurship and innovation, we’re focusing on all the negative reasons when there’s so much positive that can come from this,” he said.
Zozzaro started a Facebook group for entrepreneurs who want to find solutions instead of focusing on more problems. He runs it with Jepson, and the two of them met with the rest of the group for an in-person idea session at Inn Cahoots in east Austin Friday evening, shortly after news of the cancellation spread.
They came up with strategies to make sure no one is left out in the cold during the week that was supposed to be dominated by tech innovation.
The cancellation, Jepson said, is “inconsequential” to their entrepreneurial spirit.
“Show must go on, right?” Zozzaro said.
Second tech conference cancellation
The cancellation came the same day as another international tech conference announced it was calling off all in-person events for its planned June convention.
Collision 2020, which attracts 30,000 people from across the world, was slated to happen in Toronto this summer, but “we think gathering tens of thousands of people from almost every country in the world in one place this June would be irresponsible” given the evolving nature of the virus, conference staff wrote in a blog post.
Instead, Collision is moving entirely online for this year, and attendees will be able to watch speakers and participate in panels from home through an app.
SXSW organizers said in a statement they’re working to create a digital experience for attendees this year, too. It’s a heavy lift with a week left before the festival was supposed to start. Meanwhile, they say they’re looking at options to reschedule.
SXSW was scheduled to start on March 13. SXSW EDU, the festival’s educational programming arm, was scheduled to start Monday, March 9.