In 2013 the Hackney Council took a big risk, venturing to Austin during SXSW Interactive to seek opportunities for East London businesses to connect with Austin and U.S. businesses by setting up and operating the first Hackney House Austin.
Renting a space in downtown, they produced and presented a program of drop-in sessions on a variety of creative topics, from film and music to design and programming. Funded completely by corporate sponsors, organizations like Digital Shoreditch engaged with the Austin community on their upcoming conference, Dezeen presented their innovative ways of connecting the human element to branding, and Choose Your Own Documentary demonstrated their format of a “unique and compelling interactive experience in which the audience play the most important role.”
Hackney House was so successful, generating millions in new businesses for London companies, that the Hackney Council has returned to SXSW Interactive in 2014 with an expanded program and space, right in the heart of Austin’s downtown at 8th and Congress.
This space next week will be “transformed to host a festival of interactivity from some of world’s most innovative creative tech businesses.”
Carl Welham, the council’s Interim Business Investment Manager, Regeneration Delivery, stated this idea was conceived for SXSW 2013 after they operated a pop-up venue during the 2012 London Olympics within a huge business expo center, which ran for four months in Shoreditch, a part of the creative burrough of Hackney.
“The impetus really came from two things,” Welham explained. “First of all, the signing of the business friendship agreement with Austin, which took part in January of 2012, and then from our businesses themselves who were really keen to cement the relationships that had been built up with American companies during the 2012 Olympics; to make the most of this new link that we had with Austin.”
For London’s creative sector companies, SXSW Interactive is a key component to making those business connections, presenting their concepts, solutions and products while also exchanging ideas and opportunities. “They were very excited at the prospect that we would create a fringe venue that would allow them to showcase what they do, to meet new contacts, to make new business happen.”
Because it was a risky endeavor, the Hackney Council started on a small scale with twelve companies to showcase. This operation was also what would be called, non-statutory, in that it doesn’t relate directly to the bread and butter of what a local council in London does. It was adventurous and the impetus of the entrepreneurial spirit.
“Most U.K. cities have never done anything like this in Austin or in the States. It’s quite a big step for us to do this in the first place.”
Since Hackney House Austin is strictly funded through corporate sponsorships, with no monies coming from public funds, a lot of work went into last year’s event to rally those sponsors and take a risk with the council.
Welham stated that their post-event evaluation showed the London companies secured over £7 million in new business, which equates to about $11 million. Not bad for a long weekend’s work.
Through the success of 2013, the Hackney Council had a solid foundation that brought back companies from last year for SXSWi 2014, including iCity, Digital Shoreditch, protein, Moo, Dezeen and onedotzero, while tripling the number of businesses participating and adding some large names to the game, including British Airways.
The timing couldn’t have been better, as British Airways sets off its virgin voyage with direct flights from London Heathrow to the Austin airport. “That’s a massive boost to trade link between the two cities.”
British Airways is also sponsoring the Millennial Mentor’s program, which brings students from Hackney Community College and Austin Community College together to collaborate with large creative agencies on the approach to the Millennial market while mentoring student’s with hands-on digital experience with the pros.
“This year is bigger, better, bolder and even more exciting than last year,” Welham said.
So what is in store? To name a few:
Saturday, 8th of March at 4pm: London’s Victoria & Albert Museum’s digital design team will present their Memory Bank project, “Collecting the Future at SXSW,” which will be a part of their curation of the history of design. Contribute your ideas in advance on Twitter using #VAMemoryBank.
Sunday, 9th of March is MAKE day, curated by Here East. At 1pm iCity, the new technology hub that’s risen out of the 2012 London Olympic campus, will present hands-on maker workshops with Technology Will Save Us, Bare Conductive and Lost Values. At 2:30pm,
“From Prototypes to Products with Here East,” Hackney’s creative technology companies will discuss what it takes to get new products to market. And then at 4pm a topic that can relate to any city, whether it be London, Austin, or all points in between, the “Designing Even Smarter Cities” panel will be led by tech professional, Rohan Silva, to discuss how cities can generate a modern digital renaissance.
Hackney House Austin 2014 opens on Friday, 7 March and runs all weekend through to Monday, 10 March, located at 721 Congress Avenue, corner of 8th Street, Austin, TX 78701. Hackney House is free to attend and open to all, not requiring a badge for entry.
The parties at SXSWi are as big a part of the experience as the learning and chatting, and Hackney House Austin has plenty of opportunities to mingle with London-based businesses and creatives, including the Official Opening Party at 5:30pm on March 7, with delegates from Austin and Hackney, London in the presence of Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. Following right after at 6pm it’s Silicon Drinkabout Austin (sponsored by British Airways). Free beer is promised.