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What is SXSW and why should you know?

Jeremy works in PwC's Emerging & Digital Technologies team, helping drive some of the firm's more innovative ideas and propositions. He brings a start-up mindset to PwC and our clients.


SXSW (“South by Southwest”, or “South by” if you’re a regular) began in 1987 as a music festival in Austin, Texas. In the mid-90s the film and technology segments were added, eventually leading to the trifecta that is SXSW Music, SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive today.

Nowadays, SXSW Interactive (which I’ll shorten to just SXSW for convenience) is a prestigious annual festival celebrating all that is innovative in the technology world. Over the course of its 5 days, more than 34,000 people from around the world attend, each with their own convoluted agenda of which of the thousands of sessions to attend.

The festival has such a high profile worldwide that keynote speakers have included Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Astro Teller, head of the super-secret GoogleX division, and even the president of the United States himself, Barack Obama.

I was fortunate enough to attend the latest festival in March 2016, and the atmosphere was electric. People from all corners of the earth gathered in Austin in a technological pilgrimage. Google was there to showcase its latest driverless car technology, NASA’s astronauts discussed their upcoming mission to Mars, and IBM showcased Watson’s artificial intelligence technology from a personal perspective.

What makes SXSW incredibly exciting is that for those 5 days you’re living in the future. I witnessed virtual reality being discussed and used in a number of areas – music, tourism, sport, and even city planning. I watched as someone controlled a Star Wars BB-8 droid using his mind (or maybe it was The Force). Most incredible of all, I saw a paralysed man able to use some of his limbs again through technology that sends signals from the brain to the muscles using its own system, bypassing the spinal cord completely.

Twitter and Foursquare are two well-known companies that kicked off their apps at SXSW and hundreds of others do so each year. The technologies being discussed, demoed and debated are potentially those that will be mainstream in a few years’ time.

There is something for everyone at SXSW: The learning during the day, the partying in the night, and the networking and business opportunities throughout.

So how can you get involved in 2017? If you want to attend, the entry tickets are fairly pricey starting at just under £600 for the early birds among you and rising to £850 for last minute purchases.

Too pricey? If you have an engaging idea for a session, you can submit this through the PanelPicker from June 28 when it opens. The judging process involves the public, SXSW staff, and the SXSW advisory board. If your idea is selected, your entry ticket will be covered. Not only will you be able to enjoy all that SXSW has to offer for free, you’ll be able to contribute to the stimulating atmosphere that makes SXSW what it is today. Good luck to everyone – I hope to see you in 2017!

Contact us

Jeremy Dalton

Head of VR/AR, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7701 295956

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