How Conference Startup Competitions Are Evolving in 2016

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The South by Southwest Accelerator Competition, taking place during the annual SXSW Music, Film & Interactive Conference in Austin this week, is a live pitch contest for 48 emerging startup companies in six different categories.

Each company representative gives a two-minute presentation talking about their product or service, their go-to market strategy, and how they’re generating revenue in their industry vertical.

For this year’s contest, 15 of the 48 companies were internationally based. Over the last eight years since the competition launched, 62 percent of the 300-plus participating companies have received funding to the tune of $2.6 billion in total.

“Over 13 percent have been acquired by the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook, so that’s telling us we’re choosing the right companies,” Chris Valentine, producer of the SXSW Accelerator Competition, told Skift. “They’re fundable.”

With growing mainstream interest in startup culture and more conferences developing their own startup pitch platforms, we sat down with Valentine in Austin to see what trends are emerging in the overall contextual delivery of the presentations.

It turns out there are two shifts in terms of what competition organizers and investors are seeking.

One, they want to get a grasp of more of the team members involved in the company, beyond the founders and co-founders. There’s also a significant interest in companies engaging in community service and civic engagement, which President Obama spoke about during his kick-off keynote this year at SXSW.

“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people with great ideas, but it’s the ability of the team to execute on that,” said Valentine. “What I’ve seen over the last couple of years, and I heard this also from Tim Draper, the billionaire investor with DFJ, which is probably a top 10 VC firm. He said, ‘Chris, I invest in people, and when I look at companies, what I’m looking at is the entire team.’”

Valentine continued, “If the team is younger, then who are the advisors, the mentors, and the people supporting them? If you don’t have a lot of experience, then you need someone who is experienced who’s whispering in your ear and guiding you down the path.”

Therefore, the six winning startup representatives tended to devote more time in their pitches to explaining who was helping them drive their companies forward.