Madison’s heavier presence at SWSW is paying off, GMCC head says

Madison chamber President Zach Brandon says Madison’s increased presence at the South by Southwest show in Austin is paying off.

“It’s a great opportunity to travel there and to multiply our message about what’s going on, how great this is and how this isn’t flyover country,” Brandon said. “This is the land of opportunity.”

The SXSW festival — a mix of film, music and tech — wrapped up last month and included an appearance from President Obama. Brandon, who leads the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, said Madison’s already seen dividends from having a heavier presence there each year.

Next month, for example, AOL founder Steve Case will headline the GMCC’s 2nd annual IceBreaker luncheon. Brandon said that arose from his reaching out to Case’s team at SXSW. He also met Robin Hauser Reynolds, which led to her holding a screening in Madison of her documentary “Code: Debugging the Gender Gap.”

And in the coming year, Brandon predicts, a couple of prominent national tech leaders will come to Madison based off similar interactions.

Also at the show was Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy, who spoke at a panel on cancer technology. Others at SXSW included the team at the HealthX Ventures fund; Adorable IO founder Jim Resnick, who helped put a panel together; the heads of the coworking space 100state; and the team at what used to be Vidmaker, a Madison startup acquired by YouTube in 2014.

Brandon, meanwhile, was once again a coach of the main SXSW pitch competition, where Madison-based Redox was a semifinalist. He said it was a “complete validation” that his fellow coaches were execs at Johnson & Johnson, the venture capital arm of PBS, NASA scientists and the person responsible for the Google contact lens.

“As soon as people make the connection between Madison and Epic and our growing health tech ecosystem, they immediately understand it,” he said.

Brandon said the chamber brought together anyone who’s spent time in Wisconsin at an event with “good food, good beer and great conversation.” The event, put together with help from American Family Insurance, included larger Wisconsin companies such as Kohler, Northwestern Mutual and Michael Best & Friedrich.

He also strengthened his relationship with the local chamber of commerce, which not too long ago was itself starting to build a tech hub. Brandon said Madison shouldn’t strive to be just like Austin or Silicon Valley, but it welcomes advice on how to make the city another prominent “place of innovation.”

“It’s almost like having an older brother that you can go back to and say, ‘Help me understand what I can do better,’” Brandon said.

— By Polo Rocha,