South by Southwest trade show visitors hang out with the San Antonio "icehouse" volunteers on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

San Antonio’s “icehouse” at the South by Southwest (SXSW) continued to pull in a small but engaging crowd shortly before the trade show’s third day ended on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the San Antonio trade show space had run out of its supply of free beer on Monday, but “icehouse” visitors still enjoyed the last remaining SA Pops paletas, tossed beanbags during games of Cornhole, and tried on goggles from local startup Merge VR.

Jean-Luc Mette, senior economic development specialist for the City’s economic development department, turned DJ as fellow volunteers mingled with trade show attendees during a happy hour of sorts as other trade show volunteers offered free beer, wine and chips with salsa.

Sisters Sydney and Taylor Fisher, both Texas State University students, stopped by San Antonio’s space, attracted by Cruz Ortiz’s vibrant art on the “icehouse” wall. The Fishers then tried on the Merge VR goggles, sitting on the metal chairs on the fake grass patio of the trade show space.

“I thought it looked pretty cool. They’ve got the (beanbags) going on,” Taylor Fisher said.

“Then you got this mural over here. It’s very colorful,” added Sydney Fisher.

The Fishers have been through San Antonio many times, for different reasons, but they said they appreciated the new way that the large, historic city was promoting itself.

“They’re really putting themselves out there,” said Taylor Fisher.

“This is really fun. The people here are nice and friendly,” Sydney Fisher added.

Jean-Luc Mette, Choose San Antonio volunteer, DJ's at the city's trade show space at South by Southwest on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz
Jean-Luc Mette, Choose San Antonio volunteer, DJ’s at the city’s trade show space at South by Southwest on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

During his time at the festival, Mette caught glimpses of San Antonio’s biggest official SXSW activation, which included Casa San Antonio, the three-day cultural embassy for San Antonio that nonprofit Choose San Antonio set up at the Old School Bar and Grill. While he enjoyed Casa San Antonio, Mette looks forward to the city improving its presence at future SXSW festivals.

“It’d be great if we could have a local brewer like Busted Sandal (Brewing Co.) here,” he said, referring to the City of Denton’s booth, next door to San Antonio’s trade show space, that drew crowds each day by offering free beer on tap from a local startup brewery, Audacity.

“It’s just lessons for the next time,” he said.

Kevin Peckham, executive director for Choose San Antonio, said the organization will meet with the City and other partners to review the inaugural #SATXatSXSW initiative. He looks forward to the city returning to SXSW, he said, and going to other major events to market San Antonio as a growing community that’s friendly to Millennials, young families and startups.

San Antonio has been just one of many cities and countries to collectively, officially promote their economic development and creative talent at SXSW. The City of Chicago was again represented at this year’s festival with its #ChicagoBrand platform, showcasing its entrepreneurial ecosystem and creatives.

But the Chicago Tribune reported that even with hundreds and thousands of public and private dollars raised and spent at SXSW, this year’s #ChicagoMade showcase may have fallen short of expectations.

The Washington DC Economic Partnership returned to Austin with WeDC, a year-round program with activities and messages promoting DC’s image around the nation’s capital and elsewhere. Representation from the DC area’s technology, film and music sectors were present.

WeDC took over a restaurant, Revival Public House, across from the Austin Convention Center from Friday through Monday, and filled the venue with networking opportunities, events, free refreshments, and live performances from musicians from the nation’s capital.

Julie Weber, marketing and communications director for the Washington DC Economic Partnership, said she did not know yet how much her organization spent on WeDC this year at SXSW, but that last year the partnership spent about $350,000 on its SXSW initiative. It’s the District of Columbia’s fourth year with a formal, collective presence in Austin, but the second year with the WeDC brand.

“We brought an authentic story down to South by,” she said. “We’ve done meetups with community groups and had kickoff events, all to talk about what DC means.”

Initially, promoting Washington, D.C., at SXSW was about showcasing its tech industry,Weber added, but that effort has expanded to the area’s makers, creatives and other talent such as culinary professionals and even the local professional sports franchises.

“We have such an engaged business community in DC that not only cares about what they’re doing, but about the city they’re doing it in,” Weber said.

The partnership likely will not see tangible results from its SXSW initiatives for another few years, but Weber said the DC area is already experiencing a wave of tech companies either moving to the city or others choosing to stay there.

“Part of why that is happening is because of our efforts,” she said, adding that she hopes San Antonio has similar success.

South by Southwest trade show visitors hang out at the San Antonio "icehouse" space on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz
South by Southwest trade show visitors hang out at the San Antonio “icehouse” space on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive portion that ends Wednesday, said he is glad that San Antonio finally staged a large-scale, official activation for SXSW. He attended a pre-SXSW rally at the Geekdom Event Center in January.

“There has always been a strong Rackspace presence at the event — but seeing other sections of the tech/creative community come together to create a splash in March in Austin is pretty neat,” Forrest said.

“San Antonio is part of what makes Texas such a unique state — and that uniqueness is one of the things that attracts so many people from around the US and around the world to SXSW,” he added. “I am not sure if it will be the biggest activation at the 2016 event, but, I think this activation will open a lot of eyes to all the new energy in the Alamo City.”

San Antonio’s tech community, as well as other sectors, are sure to see benefits and increased relevancy from their formal, organized participation in SXSW and similar events, Forrest said.

“So, that’s an exciting prospect as SXSW continues to evolve. Now if we can just get the Hyperloop to quickly connect San Antonio to Austin, then we will have an unbeatable combination,” he said.

Peter French, founder of San Antonio nonprofit research corporation FreeFlow Research and local tech community advocate, facilitated a panel about entrepreneurialism at SXSW over the weekend. He visited Casa San Antonio when it was in operation at the Old School Bar and Grill and said he is proud of what Choose San Antonio and its partners have done to help showcase an emerging side of San Antonio to the global community.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “It comes down to, if the president of the United States thinks it’s good to come to South by Southwest to recruit people, then so should San Antonio.”

San Antonio has an opportunity to take part in South by Southwest’s annual ecological and education conferences and promote what the local private and public sectors are doing in the way of environmental sustainability and education innovation, French added.

“Let’s give ourselves a new way to talk about what we’re doing now. I’ll say it now, this is successful,” he said about the #SATXatSXSW initiative. “It’s a foregone conclusion.”

*Top image: South by Southwest trade show visitors hang out with the San Antonio “icehouse” volunteers on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.