Michigan’s mobility footprint at SXSW 2019 was huge. If you were at the Austin, Texas festival this year, you probably crossed paths with one of my guests for this edition of Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast.
I’m riding the wave of “South By excitement” with Seun Philips, director at PlanetM, Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs at Ann Arbor SPARK and Justin Robinson, vice president of business attraction at the Detroit Regional Partnership.
Stay with me and learn about how Michigan’s footprint at South by has grown, how Michigan is attracting mobility attention, businesses and talent and what SXSW and other Michigan tech festivals have in common for the future. I’m your host, Claire Charlton.
Komal, Seun and Justin, welcome to Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast.
The three of you were a part of the Michigan cohort that were lucky enough to attend SXSW this year. I’m very envious. And you were the face of Michigan Mobility. And this year at South by, mobility and intelligent transportation were huge topics, huge. So each of you is involved in economic development in Michigan to one degree or another, and so I’m hoping that you will share some of the mobility moments, especially those related to economic growth and business attraction that you may have experienced while you were there.
So Justin, we’re going to start with you. Michigan’s SXSW footprint was at the Michigan House once again this year, but it was a little bit different. I think you were at a different location and this year Michigan House contributed to official SXSW programming. Tell us about how that was, what it was like.
Yeah, so last year actually the three of us went down to South by to really monitor the show and to see where the discussion around mobility was at. And one of the things that we saw was really its, in its infancy. And so we teamed up last year and we did one mobility panel and we hosted a reception and we really had some good experiences. So we decided to go all in this year together and host a full day of mobility programming with the idea of trying to draw to us really a lot of the people who are down attending South by or in the Austin community to the Michigan House to come and talk with us and to learn about how Michigan and our communities are leading in the mobility space.
And so we did that jointly with the Michigan House and together we hosted four panel discussions and another mobility mixer. And I think the outcomes were very successful. I don’t know the exact figures, but I think all together combined we had well over 1,000 people come through for the various programming.
Wow! That’s huge.
So Seun, can you share with us some highlights from the Michigan Mobility Day events that Justin was just talking about? Now I read there was something about Michigan beer and cheese, but … I understand also that you were part of a panel discussion. Tell us about that.
Yeah. So the panel discussion that I was a part of was about global mobility partnerships. So to what Justin was saying is that we saw a great opportunity in being able to facilitate these conversations on a global level. So, the partnership panel really focused on what Faurecia, Audi and P3 Group are doing to contribute to that conversation on collaboration, what they feel is necessary to increase collaboration, some of the pain points that their organizations are having around that collaborative effort. And across the board, we heard and we understood that a lot of the organizations are really pushing for it and that they are trying to find innovative ways to work better with the startup community as well. But we had a very successful panel and attendance. And I guess one great indicator is understanding that … or when people came to ask a lot of questions, it just shows that they were definitely engaged and interested in what the panelists had to talk about.
And so I can imagine with what you and Justin both shared, it seems like this is just the beginning for Michigan and Michigan’s Mobility presence at SXSW.
Yeah. So all of us will come together to see how we can expand on that.
Awesome. Thank you. So Michigan also had a presence for the first time this year at SXSW Job Market, which I understand attracts tens of thousands of people to talk about and learn about the best places to work around the globe. And Komal and Justin, can you talk a little bit about how our presence there contributes to talent attraction, especially for mobility in Detroit and as well as Michigan?
Komal, why don’t you go first.
Yeah. The job market is very interesting because as economic development we are really interested in not only retaining and growing our own talent, but also making people aware that we are doing such cool things here in Michigan and that they should … if they are front runners in their fields affecting mobility, they should be coming and working here with us in Michigan. And so it was really great to be part of the job market and have a presence there and see not only companies being profiled as part of our Michigan contingent and you know, all our agencies profiled there, but having people come in and ask questions and showing interest and wanting to be present in Michigan.
Yeah. And to pick up on that a little bit, you know, clearly when we evaluate where to put resources into any of these kind of conventions or trade shows, we’re always looking for, kind of, as many returns as possible. And I think one of the things that really the … was new this year versus last year was the opportunity to invite our companies down and actually talk about job openings and create a platform for them to get in front of some of the world’s best talent that’s down there as part of the conference. And so, right? One part is obviously delivering more of a business development, business attraction message, but equally important piece of that is the talent development message. And so I think in the future that that platform may hold even more opportunity and maybe a bigger opportunity than what we even did in the core Michigan House programming.
In the work that I do, there’s … I often hear of a rub between the pace of innovation and the pace of policy, but I understand that Elaine Chao, the U.S. Secretary for Transportation, was there at SXSW. And she made an announcement about the formation of a work group within the department, the Non-traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council. Can you talk about the impact of … or, hopefully the potential impact of this particular work group on the pace of policy for mobility?
Yeah. So I think one of the other great things about South By is you get the convergence of a lot of different groups down there talking about how a government industry and policy work together. One of the things that was taking place down there was the Council of Mayors. So there were about 30 mayors down there meeting with industry, talking about how the future of technology and government need to work together in order to really achieve the mutual objectives of one another. And that was also on the panels we had. I mean, how does technology work for its residents and government as well?
And so I think the secretary’s announcement was just one of many examples of the different stakeholders coming together over those few days and really saying, how do we do this together? And what are the platforms and strategies in which we can do that? And I think what is really the best outcome and it is the clear indication that this is a priority. Both sides realize that they each need each other, right? We can’t do it alone. And so I expect we’ll see in the future more and more focus at South by on that exact point. How does technology and government work together to drive the future?
We’ve had a Council for Future Mobility here in Michigan that advises the state. And it’s a similar group of people, industry, policy, government, all trying to address “how can we move this forward?” To see this announcement brought by the Secretary of Transportation is very heartening because this means that we will see more direction from a federal standpoint. And what we’ve been doing here at the state level is really being watched and they are creating something that just, as Justin says, will bring together the top leaders to advise on what are these gaps that we’re seeing that will help advance mobility implementation and growth in the connecting vehicle environment.
It’s really wonderful to have Michigan taking the lead on some of these, sort of, uncharted waters with regard to mobility as it relates to policy. So, Komal, if we can stick with you for a minute, SXSW had a pitch contest and Derq is a company that each of you are actually familiar with. It’s an international company that’s connected to Techstars and Ann Arbor SPARK, and it’s also testing some of its technology in Detroit.
So, Komal, can you share with us what it means to have eyes on this Michigan-based company, that actually won the pitch competition for artificial intelligence, I believe it was, at SXSW?
I think it was really heartening to see. Derq is one of those companies that has surely optimized and utilized all the different kind of resources that are available to a company that enters the southeast Michigan ecosystem. As you define their journey, they came through Techstars Mobility, worked with Ann Arbor SPARK, our incubator, leveraged a lot of resources with us, and then utilizing PlanetM resources, they were able to get aground to actually deploy their technology in Detroit as well. Through partnerships, through DRC, PlanetM, Ann Arbor SPARK, they have met with both public and private sector partners and been able to truly leverage these relationships to grow their company here in Michigan. Which is really exciting for us, and then winning the SXSW award, is, it shows that companies that are leaders in mobility should find their way to Michigan and here they will grow even further. And we are able to have a global presence.
And Michigan has the resources to support those innovations, that’s fantastic.
Now, I’ve heard some rumors that Detroit may be a future host of a SXSW Ask event, and it may be, maybe around the North American International Auto Show, moving to the summertime, and Ann Arbor Spark already hosts the a2Tech360 event, which is, I guess, kind of like a mini-SXSW. So, can you share a big picture view, of what we can learn from festivals like SXSW for future Michigan-based festivals. So, Justin, I’m hoping that you can answer that question.
Sure. I mean, one of the great things this year, is that we actually had our North American International Auto Show team come down with us to see what’s happening at SXSW with the intention of trying to take away key findings about what are they doing down there that’s different? And cultivating a different conversation that they can bring back to Detroit for June 2020. And it doesn’t stop there. I know there are teams are all around the world, including, likely to join us in Israel this June at the EcoMotion Main Event. And I think the whole objective is, is, can automotive transform to future automotive and mobility? We also need to transform the way we host these different conference and auto shows in the global ecosystem.
And it’s great that we really have leadership that understands that its driving towards this and so obviously, the auto show made the difficult decision to move from January to June, for next year. But it’s not just about weather, it’s really about cultivating a different type of show. So, you know, it will be both in the venue, and across the city. I know they’re working toward inviting different international partners from around the world, have different types of pavilions of real-world demonstrations, really being physically in the city environment, which is a lot different than being inside the four walls of Cobo for the entire conference. And that’s one of the things SXSW has done really well.
For anybody that has ever attended, there is really no central hub. It truly a disparate show with activations and literally hundreds of locations across the city. And I think that’s one of the things Detroit is trying to learn from and bring back here in our, to our community.
And one thing to add on that as well is that, what we’re doing with the auto show, and alluding to, being able to go to Israel for EcoMotion is just to mention, go to SXSW. We’re really looking for the impact to be bigger and better with the experiences and people will see in 2020 is having the ability for Detroit to showcase true pilots, true deployments across the city of Detroit and we’re looking forward to it.
I really look forward to that.
So yeah, for us a2Tech360 actually did come up after visiting, and expanding our Tech Trek events to a2Tech360 came up after visiting SXSW, so we are in some ways taking inspiration from the event, and really trying to see how we can curate a tech-oriented multi-day extravaganza here in Ann Arbor that showcases and allows for different partners to come to the table just like how SXSW does it. People can bring their conferences through this week and really build upon each other. And really contributing to the economic development of the area because this is a great way for company attraction, it’s a great way to see local businesses thrive and get business out of the activity that it has generated and it’s a really great way to plant the flag for your region.
So we’re really excited about the programming that we’ve built in for this year, and we hope that with every coming year this is going to continue to grow, with the North American Auto Show being here, there is scope for making this a region-wide initiative which will be even more exciting.
Excellent.Thank you. One final question for everyone, and this is just to share some SXSW flavor and how it, how it, impacts the rest of your life. And as you re-enter the real world, the world that is not SXSW, what’s the best way to recover from SXSW?
Like when you return back?
So, SXSW is very unique, and I really love it because of going to different houses and how they have that setup. I think the best way to recover is come back, you care to take, cos since its over the weekend too, you just take a little time off, but then, you’re able to see, like hey, what’s next best impact? There’s a lot of energy, so I think it’s important that you feed off of that energy and you ride the wave to see what’s next. But, yeah, great opportunity, lot of fun, great, great networking, it’s the best thing that I can think of.
Justin are you still riding the wave?
You know, there’s no downtime anymore these days. So you kind of just into the next thing, but it’s just what Seun said. It’s really a high energy environment, I think you’d come back more charged up and you got a ton of ideas and connections. I think the key is just takes a little bit of time, and make sure you follow up on all of those and LinkedIn is a great tool these days to do that through.
And Komal, final thoughts?
Totally agree with both of them. For me, SXSW, the best part is the fact that it’s one place you can learn about anything under the sun that you’re interested in. So, for me it’s, really it opens your eyes to how many different synergies and so many overlaps are there to, things that are for your interest, and industry are working with other industries, it’s a really great place to kind of broaden your horizons. But it definitely activates you quite a bit. So when you come back you are quite charged up and I agree. We need some downtime that we can hopefully, will be a, will be that, and cuddling with the book and just relax a little. Unwind with thoughts of about what we’ve learned. Like Justin said, follow, follow up with people that you met.
I imagine that it’s just a lot to process. Awesome.
So, Justin, Komal, Seun, thank you so much for joining me on Driven’s Mobility Moments podcast. And I look forward to talking with you again soon.
Thank you. Thank you very much for having us.
Big thanks to Seun Phillips, Komal Doshi and Justin Robinson for sharing just a tiny slice of their experiences at SXSW. Special thanks also to Michigan House for their programming at the event.
Be sure to check in to Driven at detroitdriven.us to follow all our Mobility news. Listen to more podcasts and sign up for our newsletter too.
At Driven, you’ll learn more about how the Detroit region leads the world in next generation mobility.
I am Claire Charlton.
Images by Jesse David Green and courtesy of Michigan House.