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An honest look at business in Austin

#WhyAustin is a special ongoing series featuring interviews with business leaders, politicians, and even outsiders. We’re taking a meaningful look at what makes Austin great while honestly examining the challenges our business and startup culture has.

Instead of talking about how Austin graces nearly every desirable Top 10 list ever published, we’re asking some of the most relevant names in business to opine. We’re interviewing company founders, politicians, startup investors, programmers, artists, musicians, and we’ve even interviewed leaders outside of Austin for their perspective. That is how you get honest feedback, folks.

Watch more #WhyAustin videos here!

Talking with a fellow native

In the video above, we chat with Hugh Forrest, Director at South By Southwest (SXSW), an internationally famous conference, music festival, film festival, and so much more as it has grown exponentially over the years.

As we put on our tech-casual outfits to jump on the Metro Rail to get our badges here in a few minutes, we reflect on what is special about Austin, what the challenges are, and whether or not SXSW would ever relocate headquarters. And the bonus is that Forrest and I are both natives – a rare treat! Below is the full transcript of our chat.

I understand you grew up here. Have you ever moved away?

I am a townie who grew up here. I first left to go to school in the Midwest. I went to a small liberal arts school in Ohio called Kenyon. Spent four years there and came back to Austin. Lived here for about another decade then lived on various places on the west coast from Portland to Seattle to L.A., but always ended up coming back to Austin.

What was it about Austin that always drew you back?

I think Austin is just, one, an easy place to live, particularly when you’re not quite sure what you want to do. Two, the creative, cool vibe that’s in Austin. There are a lot of cities like that, but I don’t think anyone quite has it the way we do.

what is the most attractive part of doing business in Austin?

I think the most attractive thing about doing business in Austin is we have an Austin-centric way to approach these things. It’s about having fun, but also being productive. Sometimes in that order, sometimes in the inverse order.

That’s very reflective of what we do with SXSW. It’s an event that’s a ton of fun, but it’s also an event where you can get a lot of business done.

Mixing those two together, I think, has been a pretty good formula for Austin and also pretty good formula for SXSW.

How does the quality of life in Austin compare to other cities?

Traditionally, one of the big quality of life points in Austin was that cost of living [was] fairly low. That was particularly good for me when I was in my twenties and thirties when I was kind of not completely sure what I wanted to do, was switching jobs a lot, was thinking a lot, was reading a lot, doing a lot of things that didn’t pay too much money.

Certainly the cost of living has increased as we’ve seen these boom years over the last decade, but we’re still cheaper than a lot of places and still have that creativity factor which is so, so important.

Have you ever considered relocating SXSW headquarters?

We have done events in other cities. We did an event in St. Louis for a few years. We did an event in Portland, Oregon for a few years. We did an event in Las Vegas. We were kind of nominally associated with an event in Toronto.

Those are all great cities and all have lots of strong points, but doing an event like SXSW has never been as successful in those cities as it has been in Austin.

Have we thought about moving SXSW? We’ve thought about everything and in terms of infrastructure, there are certainly other places that would have more hotel rooms, more convention center space, more of the things that we kind of depend on.

But at the end of the day SXSW is so much a reflection of Austin and Austin is so much of a reflection of SXSW, the two are so much connected that I just don’t think it would ever make sense to base this thing somewhere else.

Again, SXSW, our mission is to help creative people achieve their goals. That mission very much aligns with what the city of Austin is all about where creative people work here every day on their creativity in many, many different ways. That’s one of the things that makes the city so special.

Is Austin as small business or startup friendly as polls proclaim?

I think that we’ve done a great job of branding ourselves as a hub for startups and that is a big part of the success of attracting more startups. I’d like to see more successful startups come out of Austin. More exits, more funding, all of those things.

I think that there are ways we can always improve, but the city has developed an ecosystem here that attracts people from all over the U.S. and all over the world. It is certainly one of the big drivers of economic growth, of new jobs in the city at this point. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve all done to create that kind of ecosystem.

How is SXSW helping with those startup funding challenges here?

First and foremost, a lot of investors come to Austin for SXSW. Sometimes they meet companies and startups and founders from Austin, sometimes they meet companies, startups, founders from outside of Austin; but it brings that energy into Austin. That is extremely important.

I think, as well, helping to attract more startups to the city creates, again, an ecosystem where more funders want to be here. It is a long term project here.

Certainly as much as we grow the funding piece here, we are never, ever, ever going to be like what Silicon Valley is, that is leagues above us, and we shouldn’t be like Silicon Valley.

We should leverage and exploit the things we do really well as opposed to trying to pattern ourselves off of some other place.

What are the biggest challenges when hiring talent here in Austin?

I think some of the challenges we have in terms of SXSW is that it is a fairly unique job. There’s not a whole lot of training that someone can do for this until you get in-house, on site and go through a season or two. There’s the challenge of just training and how that works.

I think that it’s also become a challenge finding qualified people as the marketplace has become more competitive for job seekers. That is a, kind of, first world problem that I think we can live with. If we’ve got more job opportunities in Austin, more employment opportunities for more qualified people, that’s a good thing.

Are Austinites frequently generous with their contacts?

I do think that there is a spirit of cooperation, a spirit of community, a spirit of camaraderie here amongst many people in the startup/tech ecosystem that is a good thing, that helps the whole ecosystem.

In Austin, I think there’s a general acknowledgement that a rising tide lifts all boats.

The more we can all improve and help each other improve, the more chances we all have of continued success far beyond today and tomorrow. In that sense, I think we are fairly sharing of our contacts, fairly willing to mentor people, fairly willing to give out a hand, but I also think that is a general characteristic of a lot of the startup community. That a lot of this community around the U.S., around the world, came out of the open source movement where people share a lot of things. There is certainly competition, but there is also a lot of cooperation.

Is Austin’s past, present, or future brightest?

I still think our future is brightest and our best days are in front of us. I have an old friend who told me this once and I repeat it often:

Austin reinvents itself every seven years.

The city changes like crazy and some of those changes we miss. We miss having Las Manitas downtown and that kind of sucks that it went away, but at the same time I really like the J.W. Marriott. I really like the restaurant there, I like the opportunities that that has created. The fact that we change, continue to change, is a good thing. What you don’t want is a city, a region, that just stays the same, because if you’re staying the same, you’re not growing and you’re falling behind.

Again, we do a really good job of pushing forward and that’s really exciting. It’s an exciting place to be.

How can Austin attract more talent and more business?

How do we attract more talent and more business? I think, again, having another generation of high profile success stories come out of Austin will help a ton. That’s happening, but maybe not yet at the level of a Michael Dell. At the level of John Mackey from Whole Foods.

But that next generation is coming and coming up quickly and I think the more that we have, the more that people can see and identify of the success stories that are here, the more that attracts interest, the more that attracts people to want to come to Austin, want to move their business to Austin, do new things, do new creative things.

Again, that’s one of the things I think works really well about SXSW. It brings new people to the city. They’ve never seen the city before. They come in the spring when the weather’s nice, they fall in love with the city, they want to move here. We can say all we want about there are too many people moving here, but again, these are first world problems that we are lucky to have.

What do you think the local or state government’s role is in Austin’s growth?

Well, I think from a local and state perspective try not to mess too much with the formula is made this place successful and that formula is strong attention to creativity, strong attention to diversity, strong attention to new ideas.

It’s one of the reasons that we’ve come out strongly against the Bathroom Bill. That really goes against everything that what we believe in in Austin and what we believe in with SXSW. We are morally opposed to it. We also think it’ll be very bad for business and that’s not good.

Again, we’re the poster child for Keeping Austin Weird is good for business and very concerned what happens when you change that formula.

Can you tell us about the evolution of the Keep Austin Weird movement?

I’m sure everyone has a very different impression about how that worked and how that went. My particular impression is that 15 years ago at this point, or 20 years ago, Keep Austin Weird was very much a rallying point of the forces that didn’t want development here, that opposed growth and particularly that was when the Save Our Springs movement was very strong.

I think it’s amazing that, again, 20 years later that idea, that concept, has very much been adopted or co-opted or however you want to phrase it by the mainstream. The Chamber of Commerce, who I’m good friends with, very much agrees that Keep Austin Weird is good for business.

I think the Chamber of Commerce now understands that the creative culture in Austin is good for business. These were things that weren’t necessarily the case two decades ago. I remember we get Richard Florida as a keynote speaker at SXSW in, I think, 2003 or 2004. He had just come out with Rise of the Creative Class.

I remember at the last minute we ended up having to pay for some his travel and I was going around trying to find people who would sponsor that. Even though Austin was the poster child of very much the model city for this creative city movement and creative class, I couldn’t get anyone to bite that they should support this weird author who had these weird theories.

Again, in 2017 I think there’s a ton more agreement that having a strong creative class, having musicians, artists, filmmakers, web developers, mobile developers, whatever you want to call it, is part of of a vibrant scene. I’ll also say that having had a great opportunity to travel a lot around the U.S. and a lot around the world, everyone wants what we have in Austin.

Every other city wants to have this creative culture. Every other city wants to have a SXSW and ACL and F1. We have created something real, unique and special here and we’re the envy of the world.

What impact does having so many colleges in town have on Austin’s business ecosystem?

I think the impact of having a lot of colleges and a huge state university here is one of the many factors that has pushed this strong creative vibe here. You’ve got a lot of young people who are doing a lot of interesting thinking and that interesting thinking has, again, pushed a lot of the interesting, unique, weird ways that Austin has evolved.

It’s certainly one of the biggest things, i.e. the University of Texas, as well as other colleges, is one of, I think, our biggest reasons for success on a number of levels. Ranging from ideas to the number of volunteers that we get from those institutions.

How do you feel about Austin being on every Best Of list ever?

I’m torn on that. I feel a sense of pride that we’re recognized by more and more people. I also know that too much hype tends to kill anything and we’re in a little bit of a over-hype phase. It’s often better to be farther down on the list than number one.

We’ve been fortunate enough to be number one on a lot of lists recently, but again, I’ll say what I’ve said a few times – these are first world problems.

These are good problems to have, that we’re on too many lists of great cities to live in. Where we really have problems is when we fall off those lists. Thankfully we haven’t fallen off yet.

What is the biggest flaw in the city’s business culture?

I think the biggest challenge we have now, 2017, is a direct result of our success. It’s become a less affordable city to live in. Cost of living has increased. In some ways, or in many ways, that threatens the creativity that made Austin so unique in the first place. When it costs more to have some kind of basic dwelling, basic rental property, you’re forcing these people farther outside of Austin and, again, you’re potentially threatening what made the city so unique in the first place.

Again, that affordability challenge is huge. I think that most of our city leaders recognize that at this point and there are lots of interesting, innovative solutions that are being worked on. I’m optimistic that those will help stem that problem.

I think it’s also interesting that those challenges with the city of Austin very much reflect some of the challenges we have at SXSW. That the event itself has moved from something very affordable to attend 10 or 15 years ago to something that is not quite as affordable to attend now.

Again, same challenges there. Are we pushing out that creative class? Those smaller developers, those students, those innovators, those people with new and different ideas that made the event cool in the first place? There are always challenges, but these are better challenges to have than some of the other ones.

Words of advice for anybody moving their business to Austin or starting a business here?

Words of advice to people coming to Austin? As with anything, try to do as much research as possible. We are fortunate to benefit from a lot of hype, but you should probably investigate and figure out what is hype and what is reality.

If you are going to move to Austin or are making that step, take some time to try to meet as many people as possible.

Again, people here are generally friendly, generally friendly to outsiders who can contribute to our ecosystem. The more people you meet, the more people you can connect to. Those small connections can lead to big, big things and make our ecosystem even strong.

Watch more #WhyAustin videos here!

A special thanks to StoryCraft who diligently crafted the above video – we’re proud to partner with a crew that consistently offers such high quality work!

#WhyAustin

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Tech News

The fascinating future of technology in healthcare

(TECH NEWS) Technology in the world of healthcare has been lagging but things are changing, and quickly.

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healthcare technology

Tech in healthcare has been lagging

It’s undeniable that technology is playing a huge role in how we get around, how we interact with each other, and how we do business. But what about how healthcare is delivered and managed?

For many patients, interactions with the healthcare world can feel jarringly slow and disconnected, especially when it comes to communication between doctors and patients or between different healthcare providers.

Doctors and tech entrepreneurs acknowledge that in many ways, technology in healthcare has been lagging – but that’s about to change, and quickly. From the way hospitals are built to the way we visit doctors, get ready for some huge technology disruptions in the world of healthcare.

How patient data is shared

It may not seem like the sexiest part of the healthcare world, but it’s a critical aspect of how care is delivered: patient data.

“If you’re a patient, it’s difficult to track down your medical records,” says Kevin Grassi, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder of PatientBank. “95% of medical info is exchanged by fax or by hand. In 2016 it’s ridiculous for faxing to be the main communication method, but faxing is HIPAA compliant, and it’s been the backbone of medical information exchange.”

Today, online fax services are the only easy way for patients to receive digital copies of their medical records.

There are health information exchanges in certain geographic areas, but they are limited to information like immunizations and prescriptions, Grassi says, and systems in different parts of the country aren’t set up to communicate with each other.

So if you’re a resident of New York who is seeing an oncologist in Texas, you’re on your own finding and conveying all the pertinent medical details, and you will likely have to navigate through several isolated patient portals.

That’s where Grassi hopes PatientBank will change things. PatientBank is a HIPAA-compliant service that can request medical records for you from multiple providers, and combines the information you choose to store into a summary that can be shared with doctors and family members.

Grassi hopes the technology will not only make it easier to safely share information, it will also increase patient engagement. That’s a crucial issue for doctors as well, since reimbursement models for physicians will change in 2017, from a fee-for-care model to a value-based system.

In an effort to improve patient outcomes, doctors will be required to do much more follow up care than they currently do.

“If a patient can give medical record access to their doctor, they’re empowered to look at that information, maybe even see where it isn’t correct – which is a big issue particularly in medication records,” Grassi says. “Engaged patients are healthier patients.”

It’s not just transmitting patient data that is difficult – sometimes just getting it in the first place is nearly impossible. That’s something Fahad Aziz, Co-Founder and CTO of CareMerge, learned firsthand when he got into a bicycle accident. He was treated in Seattle, then went back to San Francisco, where his doctor wanted to learn what had happened and how he’d been treated in order to give Aziz follow up care.

“I couldn’t get my medical records from the operation in Seattle. They put me in an endless loop of trying to get my records, and after two weeks I just gave up,” Aziz says. “That started me thinking differently about my company, and what we are doing.”

CareMerge builds coordination and communications technology specific to geriatric care that lets doctors share information with nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

If a doctor sends a patient from a hospital to a nursing care facility, for instance, that physician can use CareMerge to keep tabs on the patient’s progress and get alerts if there’s a change so that a doctor can visit at the nursing home.

That cuts down on patients being readmitted to hospitals, and improves patient outcomes, Aziz says. That’s a direction he sees a lot of healthcare technology going.

“There are close to 100,000 apps that area healthcare-related, but they are all isolated, none of them talk to each other,” Aziz says. “There’s been a lot of talk around building care coordination systems that talk to each other, but there wasn’t a driver to really make that take off until the shift to value-based reimbursements was finalized. All the entities responsible for providing patient care will have to talk to each other, and for the first time these systems are starting to get traction.”

Make way for AI

Aziz predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) is also going to lead to major changes in the healthcare industry.

“A lot of startups are working on technology that will read notes from your doctors, and based on intelligence like your own labs, or viral incidents in the area, will give you recommendations,” Aziz says. “That’s where the future is going to be. Five years from now, there is no doubt you and I will have an app that will give information about an episode happening to me, and what it means not just for me but for my whole family.”

That kind of machine learning will eventually replace many routine doctor’s visits, Aziz predicts.

AI will be able to coordinate data in a way that is currently not possible, he says, which could mean better, more coordinated treatment plans for complex health problems.

Smarter hospitals

That same unified coordination will also become a factor in the new hospitals being built.

Auron Priestley, MD, says that hospitals are under duress trying to solve the issues around patient handoff.

“Physicians today have no secure and efficient collaborative tool to share information at the end of shift changes,” Priestley says. “Believe it or not, they use Word documents to share information between each other at the end of shifts. Often written in short code and when physicians are exhausted, some information may be missed. Miscommunication in hospitals currently results in 80% of preventable patient deaths in the U.S. 250,000 preventable patient deaths occur each year.”

To combat this, Priestley worked with the American College of Surgeons (ACS) to create Kolkin SOS, a HIPAA-compliant app that makes it easy for doctors to collaborate on clinical workflow in real-time. It can work with or without Internet connectivity, and allows physicians to share clinical protocols and best practices. The ACS is working on getting the app integrated into hospital IT systems.

Grassi also thinks that technology in hospitals will change around the customer experience: remote checking in that can eliminate waiting rooms, or kiosks that will help shorten wait time.

In Austin, Texas, the new Dell Seton Medical Center is under construction, and will include smart screens in each patient room so that healthcare teams can access patients’ medical history and monitor their condition in real time. Because it is a teaching hospital, there will also be cameras in operating rooms, which will allow medical students to observe procedures from offsite.

Whether it’s sharing notes between doctors or more efficiently monitoring patients, technology in hospitals will streamline communications, something physicians hope will save time and improve safety and patient outcomes.

Conclusion:

Cutting edge technology has already led to huge advances in how our health care is delivered, from robotic surgery to advances in prosthetics. Now physicians and tech entrepreneurs are making inroads in how medical data is shared, both between patients and their providers and between physicians.

For physicians involved in piloting new technology, the hope is that those innovations could mean more efficient doctor’s visits, fewer medical errors, and greater patient satisfaction. With evolving challenges in the U.S. like aging and disease, that’s certainly welcome news to healthcare providers and patients alike.

#MedTech

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Tech News

For meetings that should be an email? There’s an app for that

(TECH NEWS) If you’re tired of having your precious work time taken up by useless meetings, there may be a solution.

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standupmeet

Have you ever attended a meeting that turned out to be a waste of time and set you back on your work? I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that every person reading this article is nodding in agreement.

Meetings, if executed appropriately (and sporadically,) can be effective. However, having weekly (or even daily) meetings that are designed to catch-up or give reports can add up to a ton of wasted time.

Across the board, meetings are generally geared towards productivity, and oftentimes they are counterproductive. So, how can you still get that need for touching-base with employees while still being productive? StandupMeet might just have the answer for that.

StandupMeet is a tool designed to make meetings more productive and agile. According to their statistics, more than $37 billion per year are being spent on unproductive meetings.

The main features include: the digitization of meetings, the instantaneous sharing of minutes, and the ability to assign actions and keep track of progress.

By making the meetings digital, you organize meeting points in one place. Decisions, actions, and key points can be logged in real time and accessed before the meeting.

This makes projects more agile and helps to increase critical success factors.

With instantaneous sharing of minutes, you can collaborate and share minutes of the meeting, key result areas, and action points. This is also done in real time and is shared with colleagues to make sure that each person is on the same page.

Finally, by assigning actions and keeping track of projects helps to ensure data integrity and provides accountability to each team member. Automated reminders are available so that you can spend your time on the more valuable tasks first.

In addition, StandupMeet also offers: project wised meeting, customized meeting types, organized agendas, shareable meeting minutes, accountability, reminders to ensure time is being appropriately applied, recurring meetings, conflict-free meeting scheduling, locations, automated follow ups, automatically tracked action points, and flexibility across time zones.

This can save time and increase productivity for on-site workers and can also be beneficial for teams that are remote.

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Business Finance

Personal finance steps every freelancer must take to avoid ruin

(FINANCE) The government shutdown showcased financial instability, but what do people that have no paycheck guarantee need to do to be secure?

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personal finance

In light of the recent government shutdown, there has been a lot of attention in regards to how missing paychecks impacts the average American. Most Americans don’t have a regular savings account and could not handle a $1,000 emergency, let alone miss practically a month of pay.

While things look positive for the backpay of those government workers, we all could benefit from some careful reflection about the precarious nature of our personal finances.

Particularly those of us who don’t receive a regular paycheck.

Entrepreneurs and those invested in the gig economy have volatile incomes, and literally no promise of a paycheck ever – that can impact your personal finances in a number of ways.

Variable incomes are normal for this group and can impact entrepreneurs in ways as simple as handling debt.

If this is you – here a few things to keep in mind that can help you deal with the volatility of living on a variable income and handling your personal finances.  

  • Set up an emergency fund. Start with 500 if you have too, and remember this an emergency fund for your personal expenses, not your business. If you have an emergency fund, make sure you identify what an emergency is and also be prepared to put money back when it comes out. If you have a hard time not spending money in front of you, put your money in a local bank or CU that you don’t have immediate access too.
  • Stick to a budget. when you can’t forecast your income appropriately, controlling expenses is so critical it’s the few things that are in your control.
  • Don’t mix business with personal. While you may be pouring your personal energy and time into your start up or gig, be careful about mixing expenses for two reasons: First, it messes up your budget. You need to have separate budgets for personal and business. Second, there could be tax challenges – consult a tax professional for more information. Here’s a little primer to get you started.
  • Save for retirement. There are tax benefits and come on, don’t wait till you can’t work anymore. Also, an IRA IS NOT AN EMERGENCY FUND.
  • Practice good financial behaviors. Automate bill pay. Online statements. Digital receipt tracking. The more you can automate your life, the better you are. You already have so many demands on your time, reduce that so you can spend more time doing what you love and what matters.
  • Consider diversifying your income. Either ensure you have multiple strings or a backup gig (even if it’s just uber driving); or be prepared to do temporary or contract labor during your slow seasons.

The path to entrepreneurship is rough. What we can learn from the very struggles of the federal employees and the government shutdown is that if the government can be unstable, those of you who work in the world of startups, gigs, and entrepreneurship, need to be even more on our toes. The “normal recommendation” for saving is 10% of your income, but normal may not be enough for you. Be prepared and save (more).

Disclaimer: I am neither a tax or investment professional. This is personal financial advice and I encourage you to visit a professional if you need more specific plans of action.

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