A personal account by Hugo Paquin, Manager of Neoshop Montréal. Paquin was in Austin for the 2017 South by Southwest Music Festival with Planet Québec.
While Quebec was being buried by a late but heavy snowfall, the South by Southwest Music Festival (better know as SxSW, or “South By” for those in the know) was in full swing under the hot Texan sun. This year, 40,000 people were slated to attend the “Interactive” portion of the internationally renowned festival, which combines music, cinema, and all kinds of interactive and creative technology. Once again, Austin was the setting for the trade show, which attracts tens of thousands of festival-goers from all over the world.
Before we had even left the airport, we were surrounded by crowds of people. Although Austin is the capital of the state of Texas, it is not a large city by American standards. There are only 900,000 permanent residents, as compared to 1.3 million in Dallas or 2.2 million in Houston. However, during “South by,” it’s a whole other story. The city is literally stormed – as are everybody’s wallets. As a result of the increased demand, “adjustments” are made to the prices of accommodation, travel, restaurants, and a nearly everything else. Out of all these expenses, travel probably represents the highest recurring cost. The city requires drivers for ridesharing services to provide fingerprints, which led Uber and Lyft to leave the market. That being said, there is a range of similar apps, like Fasten and Ride Austin, that are used by pretty much everyone.
Arrival at Austin–Bergstrom International Airport
Ambassadors of Quebec innovation
This was Neoshop Montréal’s first commercial mission, and it represented a golden opportunity to promote the Quartier de l’innovation initiative to the rest of the Quebec delegates. Incidentally, the Quebec delegation was the largest one from the province ever to attend SxSW Interactive, with over 50 companies and 100 participants. Neoshop acted as brand ambassador for five companies, helping them raise their profile in the heart of the innovation industry and increase their international reputation.
- Nex Band : Newly available on the market, this personalizable connected bracelet with modifiable vibrations and lights lets you connect with your phone and your environment, providing a way to create an immense variety of functionalities and alerts.
- SmartHalo : Launched this week, this product is set to become one of the summer’s most popular items. It is primarily an illuminated navigation system for bicycles, but it can also be used as a headlight, an alarm system, and sports performance measurement tool.
- OM signal : This company is behind the OM Bra, a bra for athletes and runners. It’s equipped with a heart rate and respiratory measurement device, which allows the wearer to measure performance in real time by means of a mobile app.
- ORA Sound : This company has developed headphones equipped with a graphene-enhanced membrane. This new material is extremely light and strong and combines the best possible sound with unsurpassed energy efficiency. ORA Sound is incubated at TandemLaunch in the Quartier de l’innovation.
- Uvolt : The Uvolt is a stylish watch that can charge your smartphone "anywhere, anytime." Not only that, the watch is itself rechargeable thanks to an integrated solar panel! The company was incubated at Centech and will launch its social financing campaign on Kickstarter on March 29.
Here is Neoshop’s mini-kiosk, designed by the Montréal industrial design company Robocut Studio, after being assembled and with all the products on display.
The Quebec delegation: one of the most impressive and visible delegations at SxSW!
Due to good mobilization in the months leading up to the festival, Quebec was proudly represented in Austin. Several companies were participating thanks to the support of the Ville de Montréal (including Neoshop!) and Ville de Québec, which provided assistance to ten companies. Five other companies were selected as part of the provincial En route vers SxSW tour, in which Neoshop also participated. Let us also mention David Gobeille-Kaufman’s (Tak Design) leadership and ability to bring people together. Gobeille-Kaufman worked with the people at Export Québec to bring together resources and build bridges between ecosystems, which allowed more participants to show up in Austin than ever.
For the duration of the festival, Quebec benefitted from a commercial space at the Convention Center, adjacent to delegations from Germany, Belgium, and Ontario. For the first time, the delegation was also able make use of a rented bungalow on Rainey Street, not far from the Convention Center. Reserved for pedestrian use during SxSW, this street is dotted with bars and bungalows fitted with stages that can be rented and used as concert halls. Quebec set up its own Planet Québec House, known as the Sugar Shack, hosting numerous networking and presentation activities over two days, as well as festive evenings hosted by the Beach Club and Piknik Électronik. We should also mention the performances given by Les DeuxLuxes and Charlotte Cardin!
In addition to the musical performances, there was a program of panels on various themes, including artificial intelligence, marketing technologies, virtual reality, augmented reality, storytelling, and the future of client experience in retail. Neoshop had the opportunity to lead a panel on the latter subject with Elizabeth Brooks, Commercial Director at Lucid LLC, an international intelligent consumer data management company, Alec Lacroix, founder of the digital display company Questology, and Elizabeth Stefanka, a distinguished young entrepreneur at the helm of Stefanka Tech who is well known in the retail and fashion industries.
From left to right: Hugo Paquin (Neoshop), Elizabeth Brooks (Lucid), Alec Lacroix (Questology) and Elizabeth Stefanka (Stefanka Tech)
In addition to the many companies and artists present, we should also mention the highly visible presence of Quebec's Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation, Dominique Anglade. She was in Texas to visit the delegation and meet with her Texan counterparts and Quebec’s permanent representatives there. After all, the state is Québec’s second largest export market.
Minister Anglade visits the Planet Québec kiosk (Photo credit: @domanglade on Twitter)
SxSW: A whirlwind of content, distractions, and opportunities
The festival distinguishes itself from traditional trade fairs by its festive and relaxed atmosphere. Most of the major brands are also present, including Apple, Twitter, Bud Light, and Spotify, as well as government agencies such as NASA. They each attempt to create the most inviting experience using the most creativity (and the largest investments!) In the midst of all these activities – conferences, demonstrations, brand activations, pop-up stores, panels, concerts, competitions, private parties, barbecues – business often takes a more informal turn.
Of course, it’s important to be well prepared, but you also need to resist distractions and effectively manage your time on-site. You need to have as many meetings as you can by planning ahead and being as active as possible on social media and on the social platform set up by SxSW in order establish contacts with potential partners. Most importantly, you have to choose your battles and not try to be everywhere at once. All in all, it’s an extremely enriching experience, if only for the strengthened ties forged within the Quebec delegation. These links lay the groundwork for business collaboration back in Quebec, and maybe even for future participation in SxSW 2018...
Neoshop will soon be participating in another major event, the Commercialisation de produits innovants conference (Conference on Innovative Product Marketing) organized by Les Affaires, which will take place on April 28. Registration is now open, and a 10% discount is available by using the 1NEO coupon code. More details here!