LAS VEGAS -- For more than two decades, Austin, Texas has been home to the nation's largest and most popular annual series of music, film and interactive festivals and conferences. On Tuesday it was announced that this series will expand to include a four-day conference in Las Vegas starting next year.
The SXSW Interactive Festival started in 1994 as the multimedia portion of the SXSW Film Festival. In 2010, registered attendance for Interactive surpassed that of the SXSW Music Festival for the first time. Attendance kept increasing, hitting a record of nearly 25,000 earlier this year. Limited hotel rooms made it difficult to accomodate the growing number of attendees. Organizers began looking for an opportunity outside of Austin to help relieve some of the pressure.
Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, visited the Las Vegas tech community this August. He spoke to members at a breakout session during Jelly, a weekly tech coworking event downtown. Forrest was impressed by what he saw both downtown and elsewhere in the valley.
"The Las Vegas startup community is relatively small," Forrest said. "But, what this community lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in terms of energy and enthusiasm and long-term vision."
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh saw that potential as well when he invested $350 million into his Downtown Project, a revitalization effort to turn Vegas into a hotbed for entrepreneurs.
"Of course, we are also very impressed with all the buzz around the Downtown Project and all the great things Tony Hsieh is doing," Forrest said. "So Las Vegas seems like a great place for this young and small event to grow alongside a young but fast-emerging community."
Las Vegas entrepreneur and active tech community leader Gabriel Shepherd is organizing the non-profit SxVegas, a series of events that will take place at the 2013 SXSW Interactive conference. SxVegas, which is sponsored primarily by local datacenter Switch, will promote the Las Vegas tech community at the festival. Shepherd said the decision to bring the conference to Las Vegas validates the efforts of the valley's tech community as well as that of SxVegas.
Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, speaking at the usr/lib classroom in Downtown Vegas. Photo courtesy of @sxvegas
The SXSW V2V website states that the planned Las Vegas event seeks to attract visionaries active in the entrepreneurial arena. The website also states that the "V2V" moniker stands for slogans such as Visionaries to Vegas, Vision to Venture, Voice to Voice and Venture to Vegas.
"South by Southwest coming to Vegas is going to be incredible for our community," Shepherd said. "Essentially they bring a big magnifying glass that will expose what we have known for years…our city is bursting with talented entrepreneurs, tech start-ups and visionaries. So while they call it Visionaries to Vegas, it could just as well be called Visionaries in Vegas."
Shepherd obtained a letter from Gov. Brian Sandoval endorsing SxVegas' efforts in helping to diversify the southern Nevada economy.
"SxVegas has the potential to forge opportunities through innovative ideas that ultimately will benefit Nevada's economy," Sandoval wrote. "Their focus is to highlight Nevada's existing technology and startups alike and have the potential to attract key stakeholders by promoting and educating others of the advantages of doing business in Nevada."