Part of our work to drive innovation forward is exchanging knowledge with other startup ecosystems across the globe. In the first half of 2018 I set off on a multi-state tour to represent Sultan Ventures at various investor and ecosystem conferences, also known as the acronym tour (ROTR, SXSW, NOEW). In the spirit of knowledge exchange, I thought I’d share my experiences and reflections.
Starting in late February, I was invited to participate in Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest summit in Washington D.C. This invite-only conference is designed to encourage investors everywhere to proactively participate in their local ecosystems and also to shine a light on some of the nation’s greatest innovations that occur outside the major hubs of Silicon Valley, Boston, and NYC. On stage at ROTR, I was able to share updates on the exciting momentum that’s building in Hawaii’s startup community and get insights from fellow investors across the nation. I also got to chat with ROTR founder Steve Case (Punahou alum) and get to know him a little more and understand his mission. Rise of the Rest seeks to champion often-overlooked innovators from the country’s flyover regions and geographic underdogs: “…this is the beginning of a new era for entrepreneurship across the U.S.— high-growth companies can now start and scale anywhere, not just in a few coastal cities.” I was happily shocked to see that Rise of the Rest gave Hawaii and Sultan Ventures featured space at the summit. They had a listening station set up that was streaming The Startup Catalyst Podcast Season 1 episodes (I swear, it wasn’t a sponsored placement. I didn’t even know about it until I walked in and saw it. Since you’re reading this, here’s a shameless plug, though: go listen to the new, completely revamped Season 2 focusing on inclusivity!)
While I didn’t get more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, I did get to stay at the infamous Watergate Hotel. I was delighted that they embraced their reputation and have built a brand around it, including naming THE room “The Scandal Room”.
Next stop: South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, where I was invited to speak as part of the Startup & Tech Sectors conference track. While the focus at the Rise of the Rest summit revolved around an investor’s perspective, the conversation at SXSW was about building a startup ecosystem in Honolulu. Here I was proud to showcase the amazing work our Startup Paradise ecosystem has accomplished. Hawaii has at least 5 nationally recognized accelerator programs, due in large part to a number of public-private partnerships in our community.
I was also excited and proud to see one of our XLR8UH portfolio companies – HealthTechApps – also invited to speak at the conference. Kyle Chang, Founder of HealthTechApps, was on a panel along with professional NFL players discussing how technology such as HealthTechApps can help address sports concussion problems. Very cool to see innovation from Hawaii solving real world, double bottom line problems worldwide.
SXSW is a really interesting hybrid of multimedia experiences. Aside from innovation/tech, its main roots are in music and film, and now it’s an enormous and overwhelming (in a good way) mashup of creative ideas: 24 conference tracks in total. The beauty of this convergence is you never know what’s going to happen at SXSW. During one night of networking, I serendipitously walked into an unknown venue and found myself essentially front-row at a free Steve Aoki performance.
Immediately after SXSW (no sleep til Nola!), I hopped on a short flight to Louisiana for New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW), organized by Idea Village. There I was able to meet with some of Nola’s top startups and active investors, including a few startups from my undergraduate alma mater, Tulane University. As a college student, the months after Hurricane Katrina were a defining moment in my drive to become an entrepreneur and an ecosystem builder. Watching the community rebuild itself after losing everything, I saw the powerful and tangible impact that startups and ecosystem builders can have on the world. It was awesome to come full circle back to Nola as a champion of innovation a dozen years after graduating. New Orleans is still one of my favorite cities of all time. The week was filled with (as always) binge eating delicious food: crawfish, po boys, and beignets. It’s crazy that the random lunch buffet food there puts most high end banquets and galas elsewhere to shame.
That covers the 1st quarter of 2018… will drop another post later this week about my 2nd quarter focusing on the Global Entrepreneurship Congress summit in Istanbul, Turkey!