By Kara Carlson Austin American-Statesman
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Jacqueline Hughes says that nine years ago, "Austin Startup Week" simply started out as a way for entrepreneurs in the community to connect. This year, that community has grown to some 7,500 people.
Austin entrepreneur Jacqueline Hughes jokes that the only constants in her life the past decade have been her husband and Austin Startup Week.
It's likely a familiar feeling for a growing number of Austinites joining the metro area's ever-changing startup scene.
About 14% of Austinites work for a company that's been in business for less than six years, according to the latest Census Survey of Entrepreneurs, and more than 23,000 people work at firms less than two years old.
At nine years old, Austin Startup Week, which Hughes co-founded with Capital Factory founder Joshua Baer in 2011, has been around longer than many of the groups that now organize it.
About 7,500 people are expected to attend this year's event, which spans multiple downtown Austin venues from Sunday through Friday. More than 100 free events will span 20 focused tracks and more individual sessions, including coffee meetups, fireside chats, panels and happy hours.
Most events run Monday through Thursday and represent a variety of sectors including marketing and branding, blockchain, social impacts and food technology. Friday closes the week with co-working and a wind-down coffee.
On Sunday, families can kick off their week with Youth Entrepreneurship Day which offers learning activities and information about local youth entrepreneurship education opportunities.
"It started out just being able to supercharge people's connections to the community and each other," Hughes said. "The programming has gotten more robust and very tactical."
'A broad spectrum' Amber Gunst, CEO of the Austin Technology Council, said more companies are looking to stay and grow in Austin, and the range of sectors local startups are focused on continues to diversify. Many of these are reflected in the changing offerings at Startup Week 2019.
"What we're starting to see is people coming up with products that haven't been done before," Gunst said. "Having a broad spectrum of focus for technology is a really important thing for keeping us on the forefront of the tech industry."
Hughes has seen the expansion first-hand, and offerings at Startup Week each year have grown to accommodate the changing industry and interest.
This year adds several new tracks. Among those: are Cybersecurity, Sustainable Communities and Planet, which looks at environmentalism and green technology; Digital Experience, which focuses on building digital experiences for customers; and Design and Product, which is now a combined track, and some individual sessions on sales and business development. One-day tracks focused on specific topics, a switch from last year, will also continue.
'Connects the ecosystem' Austin increasingly is ranked as one of the top cities for startups and entrepreneurship. In August, Inc Magazine named Austin the nation's No. 2 market for startups, following only San Francisco. It also gave Austin the top spot in its "Surge Cities" list, which looks at cities with the most economic momentum. Austin has the fifth-highest startup density of the 50 largest metros in the country, with 179 startups per 100,000 people, according to a 2018 census survey.
As the metro area's reputation as a startup Mecca grows, and big-name events like South by Southwest draw visits from outside talent and big names, Startup Week remains a free week-long event that's local-focused and accessible, Hughes said.
"I'm always excited about something like Startup Week because it really connects the ecosystem together," said Kurt Rathmann, founder of Scalefactor, one of the 2019 event sponsors. "It's really what's required to keep the wheel turning in the evolution of this space."
Rathmann said the startup scene is changing rapidly as companies age, real estate prices increase and more eyes are on Austin. He founded Scalefactor as a software startup in 2014, and is now looking to grow the company to 400 people.
"Austin has become a global destination for startups and entrepreneurs. Our diverse companies, and the people who make them successful, makes our economy and start-up ecosystem durable," said Leigh Christie, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's senior vice president for global technology and innovation.
'Something in the water' Startup growth slowed nationally following the most recent recession, and Austin is no exception. But it has fared better than most metro areas where businesses were closing at a higher rate than they opened, according to findings from a 2017 study by the Economic Innovation Group. It found Austin had among the highest rates of new business openings when compared to closings.
Billy Moyer, founder of SOS Leadership and past chair of the Youth Chamber, said even during the downturn, Austin's startup scene continued to boom. He started his own business, a leadership development resource center and consulting firm and works with a lot of small businesses.
"A lot of other new businesses, entrepreneurs were starting up new businesses, staring the economy down," Moyer said. "There's something in the water here when it comes to entrepreneurship."
Funding is still continuing to flow in at record rates. In 2018, Austin saw $1.3 billion invested, $500 million than the year before. Local companies are also increasingly drawing attention from venture capital outside of Austin, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights.
Hughes said that while focused on Austin, Startup Week has also acted as a way for outside visitors to get to know Austin, and even consider moving here.
As big technology companies like Google, Facebook and Apple open or expand operations here, it's a double-edged sword for many of the startups. More top tech talent is being drawn into Austin, but the big tech companies' offerings like high salaries and high-end perks can make it more competitive to recruit talent.
Gunst said the low unemployment rate of the tech sector is also helping bring about some increased diversity as companies look at boot camps and community colleges increasingly. About 22.8% of Austin businesses were women-owned in 2016, an 11.5% year over year increase, according to the latest Census Survey of Entrepreneurs. Minority entrepreneurs represented 18.2% of employer firms.
Startup Week 2019 is open to the public, but individual events require registration. Attendees can register and build their own schedule at austinstartupweek2019.sched.com. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.