Draped in Union Jacks, the UK Digital Mission stand stood out in the trade area at South by South West Interactive. The stand was the week's home to 30 UK start-ups that had been whittled down from 100 hopefuls to attend SXSWi to promote UK web companies.
Sam Michel is the founder and managing director of Chinwag.com, a UK community for new media professionals. Michel worked with the UK government to make the Digital Mission a reality.
TechRadar asked Michel how the idea was conceived. "We were working with UK Trade & Investment to help them connect with digital media companies, and their ICT [Information and Communication Technologies] team are really innovative and forward looking and wanted to connect, and realised that their language and their process was geared to more traditional digital sectors like semiconductors or fibre optics. So we worked with them on building a trade mission specifically for digital companies."
So did the government throw a load of tax payers' cash at these firms to travel to Austin? Absolutely not, says Michel.
"The government helps by providing the general stuff that supports everybody, but the companies have to make a significant commitment themselves – they pay all their flights and their accommodation, and they also have to make a financial contribution towards the cost of what happens. We get discounted passes for the event but they still have to pay for them."
Benefits to business
With that financial outlay, there must be benefits for these British businesses to be out in Austin.
Michel says the audience of between 12,000 and 15,000 attendees is a very important: "It's an amazing opportunity to meet and network with thousands of US contacts. It's exhausting and relentless but there are very few opportunities like this. Because Austin is in the middle of the country it attracts people from both the east and west coast."
It's not just the Digital Mission that is flying the British flag – there are host of other British companies out here in Austin. We asked Michel whether Britain is a bright place for developers of web sites and apps.
"The stand is littered with Union Jacks and having this presence really means we stand out," he said.
"It's acted like a magnet for all the UK companies and there's been a lot of interest in what's happening in the UK and the level of expertise is being recognised. The guys from Six to Start won one of the top awards last night - that says it all."
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