- Author Becky Roberts
- Published April 16, 2014
Austin, Texas: Tech Cities
It’s not all about California in the US these days… Austin, Texas is taking chunks out of the tech innovation pie, says What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision‘s Becky Roberts
Austin, Texas isn’t one of America’s 10 biggest cities (it’s 13th); it’s not even one of the three biggest in Texas (it’s fourth) – yet it’s still very much on the map (and not just because it’s the filming location of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)…
Most will clock the Texan city for its world-renowned live music legacy. The self-proclaimed ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ is home to 250 music venues, SXSW (one of the world’s biggest annual music, film and interactive festivals) and Austin City Limits (another of America’s largest music celebrations). The city hosts gigs every night of the year and, if you haven’t heard, is the official headline sponsor of the 2014 NME Awards. If music is your thing, Austin is your city.
But it’s made a name for itself in the tech world too. With over 4,500 technology companies within its borders – the biggest of which include Dell, Facebook, Google and PayPal – the industry makes up a huge percentage of the city’s revenue and employment. According to Austin Technology Council, one-third of the city’s jobs are tech-related. Austin’s been dubbed ‘Silicon Hills’.
An emerging tech powerhouse
OK, Silicon Valley is still the biggest technology hub in America. But tech companies are relocating to Austin soil because of lower house prices and tax burdens – and its government incentives. The state’s Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) digs up roughly $19 billion a year to fund awards grants aimed at boosting the development of emerging technologies.
Much of Austin’s talent is homegrown through its Universities. 50,000 students are funnelled through the University of Texas (the biggest) each year alone.
And it’s a gold mine for young, ambitious graduates trying to find their feet: the city is a hotbed for start-ups. According to Forbes, Austin is the third best city for starting up a business thanks to local pundits pushing the boom. Tech organisations like Capital Factory and the University of Texas’ Technology Incubator nurture talent offering funding, resources and office space to budding entrepreneurs.
Since 2012, SXSWi (the festival’s interactive zone) has been fuelling this pipeline too. Its Start-up Village hosts a programme of networking events, hands-on training, presentations and panels that focus on new technologies. A two-day Accelerator Pitch competition showcases and judges the most innovative and groundbreaking tech ideas from global start-up companies in one hub.
It’s the birthplace of voice-controlled personal assistant Siri (later sold to a larger tech company) – and this year Skully Helmets claimed victory with a virtual heads-up display helmet for motorcyclists. SXSW’s successful plugging of then-newly-launched Twitter in 2007 is widely considered the festival’s ‘biggest hit’, though.
A tight-knit tech community vibe around Austin is catalyst to innovation. ‘We Are Austin Tech‘ provides an online spotlight for up-and-coming pushers in the community, while Austin Tech Happy Hour encourages the mingling of minds by throwing social events where go-getters can talk trends and share ideas.
So, yes, Austin is a magnet for tech buffs. Forbes just ranked Austin as the fastest-growing city in the world for the fourth year in a row, and it looks to be showing no signs of slowing down.
It’s Texas… but not as you know it
But Austin isn’t just tech central – a huge pull is its charm. There are tourist attractions – and SXSW draws in thousands of visitors every March (it’s swarming) – but where sun shines 300 days a year and BBQ-ing is a way of life, Austin showboats a relaxed, carefree, outdoorsy vibe. And countless bars, many of which have art and live music spilling out on to the streets. And that’s reason enough for many to make the trip.
This is not a familiar Texas: forget ranch-types with wide-brimmed hats and cowboy boots. The thousands of college students and the hipsters make up a large bulk of ‘Austinites’ – the latter you’ll find soaking up the bohemian oasis in popular haunts like Hippie Hollow Park (clothing optional) and Hippie Church (clothing definitely not optional).
It celebrates its eclectic, arty reputation and promotion of non-mainstream lifestyles. And the city’s motto sums up its attitude: walk past souvenir shops and you’ll see mugs, t-shirts and bumper stickers for your rental car brandished with the words: ‘Keep Austin Weird’.
We like Weird.
Becky Roberts is staff writer at What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine.
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