The City of San Antonio will be pulling back on its involvement in Austin’s international South by Southwest Conference & Festivals this year, choosing instead to focus efforts on bringing foreign entrepreneurship to San Antonio during next month’s mega-conference.

During an Economic and Community Development Committee City meeting last week, Amy Contreras, economic development manager for the Economic Development Department, briefed council members on San Antonio’s plans for this year’s SXSW.

The City of San Antonio has had a presence in the festival since 2016, having spent an estimated $143,000 total on sponsorship fees for booths, branding merchandise, transportation and travel expenses, and panel costs, said Alejandra Lopez, director of the economic development department.

This year, the City is spending just $10,000 to host a quick-pitch event for international guests and to offer participating entrepreneurs a free shuttle between Austin and San Antonio.

During the festival, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is scheduled to meet with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante in San Antonio to discuss cybersecurity initiatives, and Chief Innovation Officer Brian Dillard will head to Austin to take part in a tech and data meet-up panel on Wednesday, March 18, Lopez added.

“What you didn’t hear us say is that we’re going to be having a large presence in Austin,” Contreras said during the committee briefing. “We decided not to do that this year.”

Officials from the Economic Development Department said they will support City partners such as the Arts and Culture Department, which has a presence at SXSW with the Texas Association of Film Commissions and the Texas Film Commission, and the Office of Innovation.

Apart from these independent appearances, the City will not have any other presence directly in Austin this year, Lopez clarified.

Outreach from various entities such as the SanAntonio Economic Development Foundation, Geekdom, Bexar County, and local businesses yielded lukewarm reactions to investing a large amount in SXSW, Contreras said.

During 2016 and 2017, the City supported multiple initiatives such as Casa San Antonio, a small event space in Austin to court developers, with varied outcomes, Lopez said.

“While the general consensus was that San Antonio’s presence at SXSW was productive, we wanted more feedback … from this engagement,” Lopez said.

In 2018, the EDD asked for guidance from council members and several partners on how best to participate in the event, which draws thousands of influential business leaders, especially in the tech industry.

In 2018, the City sponsored a booth at the SXSW job market, which was organized by Tech Bloc, a local trade association for the tech industry. Last year, City staff added a “startup day,” bringing international visitors from the festival to San Antonio.

Because SXSW is not hosting a job market this year, the City is pulling back on its efforts in Austin, Lopez said.

The initiative instead will showcase San Antonio as a potential business destination, Contreras said. The City will host over 50 visitors from around the world in San Antonio, including 10 female entrepreneurs from Mexico, and will highlight areas like the Pearl District, the River Walk, and the Houston Street tech district, Lopez said.

SXSW is an eight-day event that opens on March 13 in Austin and will close on March 22.

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett reports on business and technology for the Rivard Report.