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Austin, a Weird Magnet for Tech Innovators

Written By Bart Cleveland | Jul 29, 2015

When you think of where digital and tech entrepreneurs are concentrated, three cities come to mind: San Francisco, Boston and Austin. You couldn’t find three places with more distinct personalities. But which one is the best environment to foster innovation?

Austinites like to think that we own that space for very a natural reason: we like to keep things weird, and weird is the perfect Petrie dish for invention.

You can’t argue with that line of reasoning when you consider the wide range of entrepreneurial endeavors that call Austin home. Not all of those endeavors are startups—many of these companies are already iconic.

Weird is the perfect Petrie dish for invention.

IBM located its design group in Austin for that very reason.

“IBM has been a technology leader in Austin, TX since 1967,” explained Oen Michael Hammonds, Advisory Designer at IBM’s Design’s Activation Team. “Since the city has become a cultural hub, exploding with young talent, it was the logical place for us to expand our creativity.”

Hammonds described how IBM Design taps into that pool of talent, introduces them to IBM’s deep bench of experience and merges the two using a new culture of design collaboration.

“We are tapping a talent pool unique to Austin—those who are looking to solve challenging problems on a global scale,” he said.

Josh Baer started Capital Factory in 2009 for the same reason. The inventor pool in tech was too deep to ignore. A CNN article called Baer “the Austinpreneur” and described Capital Factory as the start-up accelerator for start-ups.

Baer acknowledged that the proverbial “birds of a feather” principle applies to Capital Factory’s appeal. Startups that may seem unrelated can, in the end, collaborate in the experience of building something new.

Some observe that Austin’s appeal and collaborative attitude reach beyond the city. Candice Hahn, VP and managing director of the Austin office of R/GA, a global marketing company with clients that include Nike and Google, noted that Austin’s attraction is a component of a larger appeal.

“Texas is a very business friendly state,” she said. “Numerous corporate headquarters have moved here for that reason. And if you want to be in the state’s creative space, Austin is where you go.”

“Austin’s culture is a respite from the eroding nature of other markets known for tech.”

Hahn has perspective on the matter. She recently came to Austin from San Francisco. “The entrepreneurial spirit and intellectual horsepower of Austin is what San Francisco felt like eight to ten years ago,” she added.

Ben Thoma agrees with the assessment of Austin being Texas’ heart of creativity. Thoma is Austin’s local purveyor of Creative Mornings, and he believes that Austin’s appeal with tech and digital innovators stems from a culture weighted more towards collaboration, rather than competition.

“This certainly differentiates us from other U.S. markets,” he said. “Austin’s culture is a respite from the eroding nature of other markets known for tech.”

When you dig into its roots, you find that Austin has organically grown its appeal to the tech and digital industries. The city has always encouraged and rewarded those who like to “zag.” This expectation of cutting against the grain paints other cities, also known for digital and technology, in a more predictable and traditional light.

For those who embrace a “keep it weird” business model, it’s a great place to feel normal.

Bart Cleveland has developed branding for a broad range of companies, including: Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, CNN, DuPont, International Paper, Carter’s Baby Clothes, Applegate Organic Meats and James Hardie Siding. In 2012, Bart founded Job Propulsion Lab to help people entering advertising plan and manage successful careers.

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