Penske Media Corporation’s SXSW Leads to the Future

Paul O'Brien
6 min readMar 24, 2023
Bill Thurman with Dr. Nimesh Patel, Dr. Nik Jasani, and JL Trahan — Business of Cannabis

One of the more anticipated experiences of SXSW 2023, among those of us who work within where media and innovation industries converge, is that early last year, a pretty substantial stake of the pivotal conference in Austin was acquired by Penske Media Corporation. Media companies moving into experiences isn’t a new idea; for a decade or more, much of the media publishing industry has been recognizing that the value of their work is beyond the information and entertainment conveyed — it’s in connecting with one another, the people involved in specific interests, industries, education, or opportunities. That is to say, that where once we all subscribed to the Houston Chronicle or go to the theater to pay and experience an actor, increasingly the consumer wants to meet Dan Rather or hear Robert Downey Jr. exploring the future of Cybersecurity — this is what makes SXSW magical.

While 2022 brought us back together, 2023 was time to experience how Penske will really impact SXSW

I’ve said it time and time again, that SXSW is unique in the world for few reasons known or realized to people who haven’t experienced it. Where most “industry” events are perhaps a conference and tradeshow, or just a large networking event with talks, and other events that draw our attention are festivals and brand activations, SXSW is all of these things in one place. And where most opportunities to get together in whatever work it is that you do, center around a specific venue or conference center within a city, SXSW is nothing short of a transformation of the city of Austin, to host talks, panels, parties, concerts, movies, experiences, and meetups throughout Austin.

What those of us who consider the conference an annual priority fail to be able to convey effectively to others, despite countless articles and attempts at helping people prepare, is that you plan what you HOPE to see and accomplish, you step off the plane in Austin, and you hustle to meet more people all relevant to the work you’re doing than you ever thought possible.

I had a chance to sit down with

, executive director of the Austin Forum on Technology and Society, for a retrospective of 2023, tune in and listen as you join me further in this article.

I’ve learned that the beauty of SXSW is that you can put together a great program of things you want to see but then all the serendipitous things that may step on those are so good as well, but it’s not about what you miss, it’s about how much can you make of this experience.

- Jay Boisseau

SXSW is a conference, a trade show, an experience, a series of activations, and an economic development week; you cannot find a place that has so many interactive components in one week. There is no opportunity like that in the world — and it’s that consideration of the world that had MediaTech Ventures’ attention in one of our own experiences, Funded House, this year.

What I suspect created a subtle change in what we’ve long experienced in SXSW is that thanks to Penske Media, the music, film, and creator engagement experiences were better than ever, the talks were both thought provoking or educational (as usual), we experienced much more interest from throughout the world, and, what I think is wise decision on SXSW’s part, the programming related to connections, venture capital, and entrepreneurs, flourished through affiliated organizations such as ours. The world is pulling us into things like AI and the metaverse, and this is where the conference and a media company help drive inspiration and excitement, while, as the world comes together, people (evident this year in our experience) are focused on tangible, practical, and accessible opportunities such as how to make a living in music, what technology is available to filmmakers, how do I use a CRM much more effectively, what does it take to raise capital, and how can we all work more closely together.

Hearing Robert Downey Jr. explore online security by way of their keynote with Aura was exciting, and catching New Order, as Manchester races forward as an epicenter of culture and innovation, was inpiring, SXSW draws everyone because of those experiences while also * helping* everyone, through such talks as Not All Dollars are Created Equal: Choosing the Right Source of Capital, when Katie Gregory — Director of Investments at Golden Section — Venture Capital Fund, Will McCallum — Director of Golden Section Lending at Golden Section Ventures, Kristen Phillips — Executive Director of Studios at Golden Section Ventures, Christy Cardenas — Managing Partner at Grit Ventures, and Kay Sheils Kingsbury — CFO of Apptronik, which helped startups appreciate why fundraising isn’t so challenging as it seems (when you focus your work and attention on the kinds of capital and investors appropriate to what you’re doing).

A few tremendous organizations played an immeasurable part in our experience this year; Yada Media, Digital Den, Knobbe Martens, Tekrevol, Alberta Innovates, Dos Hombres, and SelectFew, invested time, team, and technology, with us, while Lodgewell put together incredible podcast studios for the dozens of interviews we hosted at “House of Humans.”

I got to meet the Mayor of Calgary, Joyti Gondek and in speaking with her and Laura Kilcrease, I am so excited about their visions of growing the tech ecosystem in Alberta, blessed by their support for founders like me to promote innovation and bring the best of the best minds together and build something massive!!!!

- Amreesh Khanna, CEO of OraQ AI

Ultimately though, driving the nearly 45 country conversations we hosted through Funded House, in our work to develop startup ecosystems throughout the world, Claudia Schwarz is our champion to get to know as it was her inspiration and tireless work throughout SXSW that drove global collaboration of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and creators through german.innovation ( Sanja Stankovic has a great take on SXSW here) and Claudia’s association with Innovation Bridge Europe.

Traveling to Austin once a year is always a bit like coming home. That’s mainly thanks to the incredible community that has built up here in recent years. Sometimes you have to fly to Texas first to exchange ideas with German innovators from the tech and startup sector. But that doesn’t matter, because Austin is exactly the right place for that.

- Sanja Stankovic

Of course, the pall of Silicon Valley Bank lingered but, in our world, among the entrepreneur and creative class, problems open doors to solution and disruptions are opportunities. When much of the world trembles over a change that will certainly mix things up, innovators buckle down and do something, obviously together, to make the world a better place.

This is Penske Media’s SXSW. From disruptions in media consumption and monetization changing the way journalism works to the fact that the world’s most innovative experience presents an opportunity for creators, innovators, and investors to converge and work together, together they brought something better to life. SXSW 2023 was again the best opportunity to hear about the future, have some fun while we work, and to connect with peers and partners, but it was more so, more than ever, a forum where the world came together, and as a result, we all have a greater opportunity beyond Austin than that which we found during a few days in Austin.

Originally published at https://mediatech.ventures on March 24, 2023.

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Paul O'Brien

CEO of MediaTech Ventures, CMO to #VC, #Startup Advisor. I get you funded. Father, marketer, author, #Austin. @seobrien & @AccelerateTexas. https://seobrien.com