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Competition Offers Prize Of South By Southwest Interactive Passes

By Jenny Callison, posted Oct 31, 2014
Five local companies will receive a free pass to the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, according to an announcement Friday.

University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship partnered with the festival, which donated the passes. Another partner, Austin-based Toler Law Group, contributed $1,000 to be divided among the five winners to help defray expenses.  
 
But to be selected, interested Wilmington area companies must make a compelling case as to why they should attend.
 
“We invite you to explain, in 272 words or less, your company’s value proposition to earn a free ticket/pass to next year’s festival,” the announcement stated, which added that the application form is online.
 
The written submissions are due to the CIE by noon Nov. 7. From them, officials will choose 12 companies that will compete during a “Tough Love Pitch Showcase” hosted by the CIE on Nov. 20. 
 
Judges for the pitch showcase will include business professionals and serial entrepreneurs who serve as mentors, advisors and consultants to startups through the CIE, said the center’s executive director Jim Roberts.

“These are people who know what it takes to grow a technology-based company," he said.
 
Roberts emphasized that the festival pass -- worth $1,295 each -- is just that. It will get the competition winners into the festival, but they are responsible for their own travel, lodging and food expenses. To qualify for the competition, applicant companies must be engaged in some kind of interactive activity: e-commerce or other computer-based or app-based business. To qualify, participants have to be a UNCW student, graduate or resident of the area -- New Hanover, Brunswick or Pender counties.
 
There are benefits to applying, even if a company doesn’t make it to the final five, Roberts said.
 
The process “helps the entrepreneurs focus on what their value proposition is. There’s a lot to be said about focus when you’re competing for something you want,” he said.
 
Roberts said feedback from judges through the “tough love” pitch segment should also be useful to the 12 participants, as it has been for about five startups that have gone through a similar experience at the CIE this past year.
 
“Plus, you never know who these judges know. Maybe one of them has a connection to your industry; maybe one of them knows a potential investor,” he added.
 
Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, visited Wilmington in September to speak at at CIE's Coastal Connect Entrepreneur and Capital Conference.

Commenting about the competition recently, Forrest said that it is an effort to create a stronger bridge between Wilmington and Austin.

“Having visited Wilmington in September, I was inspired by the region’s growing startup ecosystem. I’m excited to get more North Carolina founders and entrepreneurs to Austin in March for the 2015 SXSW Interactive Festival.”

The five companies that win the competition will be able to send a representative to the SXSW Interactive Festival, a five-day immersive event that attracts people from all around the world, Roberts said. Next year's event takes place March 13-17.
 
“The biggest names in the world come and speak," Roberts said. "It’s a very strong place to network, discover new markets and get to know people in your industry who could become your advisors or mentors. Those kinds of relationships are formed at SXSW."
 
Roberts said that Toler Law Group, although based in Austin, has an office in Wilmington staffed by registered patent attorney Doug Scholer.
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