URC @ SXSW 2014 Interactive

This year was the first time Michigan's University Research Corridor (URC) and Wayne State University attended the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference. They joined returning URC universities Michigan State University and the University of Michigan to connect with alumni, business, and potential partners and promote the unique and vast assets of Michigan's URC and its universities.

The URC, its universities, and the State of Michigan attend SXSW Interactive

Michigan's University Research Corridor (URC) is one of the nation's top academic research clusters and the leading engine for innovation in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. An alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University, the URC is focused on increasing economic prosperity and connecting Michigan to the world.

As part of this mission, the URC attended the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference, an annual entrepreneurial hotspot where technology geeks and creatives converge, to acquaint attendees and companies with the URC and the resources of its universities as unique assets for business and entrepreneurship in Michigan.

WSU's Stephanie Fries and URC's Brit Affolter-Caine on the SXSW red carpet

In addition to the URC and universities, colleagues in economic development attended SXSW. The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) created a presence at SXSW that included a large booth on the Trade Floor. This state level investment - a first for SXSW by Michigan - provided an opportunity for the URC, its universities, and economic development partners, such as Ann Arbor SPARK and Lansing Area Economic Partnership (LEAP), to promote their respective messages within a larger Pure Michigan brand. This booth became the location whereby we collectively worked to communicate why Michigan is a business-friendly state rich in talent, R&D, innovation and entrepreneurship to the SXSW audience.

In addition to the Pure Michigan booth, URC faculty, staff, students, and alumni could be seen presenting on expert panels, competing at start-up competitions, attending events and receptions, learning about innovative companies in Michigan and around the country, and showcasing student innovations and promoting their respective schools and colleges. Below illustrates some of these activities.

URC University Students

A number of students from URC universities had the opportunity to experience SXSW. Many of these students are young entrepreneurs, and all of them are innovative. At SXSW many were able to showcase their work, some polished their start-up pitches to compete among only eight finalists nationwide, and all were exposed to an environment steeped in entrepreneurship and innovation, checking out the latest technologies from large companies to start-ups.

MSU student entrepreneurs experiencing SXSW

Company displays, such as Samsung, Chevrolet, and 3M gave students the opportunity to see the latest and greatest technologies available. Of particular interest was the water-like liquid used to cool servers. One MSU student repeatedly demonstrates how the liquid quickly disappears after submerging his cell phone causing no damage.  

MSU student testing cooling liquid @ 3M - Is that a flip-phone?

MSU Spartan Innovations in partnership with the Lansing Area Economic Partnership (LEAP) returned to SXSW Interactive with a number of student entrepreneurs and the student start-up Carbon Cash competing in SXSW Start-up Madness Competition. MSU was the only university nationwide returning with a team to the competition this year. MSU's student start-up TempoRun won the competion in 2013.

Courtesy MSU Entrepreneurship Association @ SXSW via FB
MSU's Carbon Cash in the SXSW Student Start-up Madness Competition

The University of Michigan brought a number of students from its College of Engineering (UMCE) and School of Information (UMSI) to demonstrate their innovations at the UMSI booth on the SXSW Trade Floor, such as the Michigan Autonomous Aerial Vehicles (MAAV) team's miniature, robotic four-propeller helicopter designed to navigate completely autonomously through the window of a building, following wall signs written in Arabic that lead it to a flash drive on a table, retrieve the drive, replace it with a decoy and exit the building.

U-M Engineering students of the MAAV team demonstrating their robot


The University of Michigan's School of Information returned with the College of Engineering to SXSW, partnering with the Office of Development, and the Alumni Association to host an alumni event.

UM at Lambert's courtesy Christopher Billick via Twitter

The U-M Alumni event packed Lambert's with alumni and friends from the Austin area and those who were attending SXSW. The event was an opportunity for U-M to reconnect with its alumni and supporters, and for attendees to network.

Conference Sessions: URC Faculty, Staff, and Alumni Panelists

A number of faculty, staff, and alumni from all three URC universities participated as panelists across a host of sessions during the SXSW Interactive Conference, touching on important issues related to technology's impact on education, media, marketing, sports, innovation, and turnaround economies like Detroit.

WSU Alumna Mary Henige (Chevrolet): SXSW Mentor & Hosted by Oracle

WSU alumna and adjunct faculty member Mary Henige of Chevrolet served as a SXSW Mentor and was featured at a reception hosted by Oracle. MSU School of Journalism professor Karl Gude presented his work on infographics as part of a SXSW panel. And U-M Athletics social media director Jordan Maleh presented on a panel discussing the use of technology and sports to engage fans.

MSU School of Journalism's Karl Gude with Randy Krum @ SXSW
U-M Athletics Jordan Maleh: Arena V. Couch Panel

Detroit was a hot topic at SXSW. People asked Detroit and Michigan attendees many questions about how the city and state was doing. There were also a number of sessions featuring Detroit-based panelists, including one devoted to technology and turnaround economies.

U-M Alumni Teague (Yahoo) & Hale (FB) join DVP's Serbinski & Kaufman's Nichols

Michigan on the SXSW Trade Floor

Both the the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) had a presence on the SXSW Trade Floor. Conveniently located adjacent to each other, there was a distinct Michigan presence among the plethora of companies, cities, universities, and countries promoting their value.

UMSI with the College of Engineering featured students, innovation, and university entrepreneurship activities. MEDC with its partners created a space that was Pure Michigan.

The large block M and spinning Pure Michigan displays overhead could be seen anywhere on the Trade Floor and caught the attention of visitors from all over.

Pure Michigan and the Block "M" could be seen anywhere on SXSW Trade Floor

The Pure Michigan booth included marketing materials from the URC and other MEDC partners, such as LEAP and the Detroit Creative Corridor. The collective message to visitors focused on talent, entrepreneurship, economic development, and tourism.

Michigan is smart, fun, and ready to win!

The URC and its university partners from MSU and WSU, as well as economic development partners from LEAP used the Pure Michigan booth to engage with visitors interested in learning more about Michigan. It also became an ideal location to meetup with Michigan colleagues attending SXSW.

Many visitors had roots in Michigan and were thrilled to step foot on a piece of their home state to catch up with all new things happening in Michigan. Other visitors came to check out the fun from MEDC's game, offering the chance to win a trip to a beautiful Michigan destination. They stayed to learn more about the opportunities in Michigan, leaving with the consideration that maybe Michigan is a good place to do business.

Some Pure Michigan visitors missed the memo on Escape to Lansing T-shirts, which clearly noted no sharks along with no volcanoes and no Justin Bieber.

Michigan Companies

A number of Michigan-based companies - large and small - had a presence at SXSW, and the URC, its universities, and economic development partners were there to support either in helping with their booths, promoting their activities and materials at the Pure Michigan booth, or spreading their message via social media.

Vote for Detroit campaign was all over SXSW - and was one of several Detroit-themed conversations happening all over the conference. Attendees were interested in what's going on in Detroit!


There were ample opportunities to network at SXSW, and the Trade Floor proved to be an ideal location. The Michigan contingent was able to network with peers from other regions, and connect with companies and entrepreneurs who could be interested in locating in Michigan or doing business with our companies and organizations. There is a great deal of follow-up after SXSW with new contacts.

LEAP's Jeff Smith talking economic development with peers from the Triangle

The Trade Floor also offered the opportunity to see the latest and greatest technologies from companies, and benchmark how other universities and regions were marketing themselves in this venue.

Connecting with Each Other

SXSW created one of those rare opportunities for the Michigan attendees to network with each other, to share up-and-coming activities, findings, and events, and to collectively brainstorm ideas for how to further coordinate with each other to leverage our unique assets to better position Michigan as a place to visit, learn, work, and live.

Connecting with fellow Michiganders...in Austin, TX

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