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sheville looking for business at SXSW in Austin

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3/7/2012 - Asheville looking for business at SXSW in Austin
by Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- Local entrepreneurs and business leaders are headed to Austin, Texas, for the SXSW Interactive festival starting Friday, eager to introduce Asheville as the up-and coming place to do business.

For 25 years, South by Southwest festivals in film, music and business have turned Austin into a cultural and business mecca each March, drawing entrepreneurs, artists, thinkers, musicians and creative types from around the world.

The interactive segment has grown into the largest part of the nine-day festival, with nearly 20,000 participants from 63 countries attending in 2011.

SXSW is the place to see and be seen by entrepreneurs, according to Pam Lewis, director of entrepreneurship with the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville-Buncombe County.

Asheville has already won recognition in advance of its Monday reception at the Soho Lounge in downtown Austin. More than 1,000 participants have RSVP'd to the event, which will feature a new branding campaign touting Asheville's advantages for entrepreneurs and startup companies.

"If Asheville isn't having this event, then some other city will be the one fostering the relationships with the attendees, many of whom are startups," Lewis said.

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has budgeted $25,000 for staffers to attend SXSW and to partially cover the cost of the Monday reception. Other private donors and partners, including the networking giant Cisco and Global Accelerator Network, are offering their support.

Asheville companies such as Moog Music, Broo Shampoo, the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Eagle Nest Outfitters and others will be featuring goodies and door prizes for the guests.

Troy Tolle, founder of Digital Chalk, feeds on the energy he found at previous SXSW conferences, able to network with leading innovators.

"These are guys I couldn't just call up their office and talk to," Tolle said.

Major tech companies like Twitter found a foothold in the market after exposure at SXSW, where venture capitalists brush elbows with entrepreneurs in the hallways of the Austin Conference Center.

Tolle will be attending this year, looking for tips in starting a new Tech Accelerator for Asheville.

He's been volunteering much of his time with the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College Tech Entrepreneurial Foundation to create a launching-pad for new startup companies.

"SXSW will be an opportunity to interact with the top accelerator folks around the world, and learn from the best," he said.

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