Two weeks ago, the Startup America team returned from SXSW Interactive, perhaps the most hyped confluence of startups in the country. And for good reason: More than 20,000 people attend to pitch their companies, witness the latest innovations, hear from leading entrepreneurs, check out the newest info tech and attend a party (or five!). Founders and their teams can check out hundreds of panels with topics ranging from angel investing to lean startup strategies. One common challenge we've heard from startups is that, it's very difficult to make meaningful connections amidst all of the noise at SXSWi - it turns out to be a similar problem for them "back home".
We created Startup America Live inside of Startup Village, in order to offer startups a home base amid the craziness. We hosted expert programming where founders were able to pitch VCs and the media, we partnered with Women 2.0 to host an at-capacity Founder Friday and happy hour, and worked with Startup Weekend to create a condensed version of NEXT. Overall, it was a huge success. But what we heard time and again was that the most valuable aspect was perhaps the simplest: office hours.
Over the course of four days in Austin, we worked with our sponsors and partners to set up more than 780 one-on-one meetings between startups and representatives from big companies, accelerators, VCs and media outlets. The startups had 10-15 minutes of undivided attention with people they may have been trying to get in touch with for months. Fifteen minutes may not seem like a long time, but for a founder looking for guidance or trying to land a first big customer, the ability to access these people was invaluable. And the executives who took part found it just as beneficial as they got out of their "office job" for the day and heard from some amazing new companies.
While those four days were super productive, what about making those connections happen during the other 361 days of the year? Whether a startup is trying to land a big corporation as a reference customer, create a strategic partnership with them, or just tap their subject matter expertise, providing the front door to enable that interaction is crucial. Programs like the NYSE Big StartUp are trying to create those connections, which can be the key opening startups to accelerate their business. Currently in beta, Corporate Connections has already provided our startups with the opportunity to connect with industry giants like American Airlines, Intuit, Jones Lang LaSalle and Coca Cola.
Remember, even the largest corporations were once brand new startups. In order for the U.S. to remain competitive in a global market, Fortune 500s and startups need to engage in order to leverage the innovations and strategic assets that drive growth. Is your company taking advantage of the tremendous opportunities created when these dots are connected?