Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tucson's 10West: the future holds promise.

Having been to Austin's SXSW, Portland's NXNW, and numerous multi-day events in NYC, I've seen how vibrant and idea-infusing a multi-focused festival can be for a city.

Each city has its unique features and focus. SXSW started as a music festival and added film and tech. NXNW was similar in its focus on music. New Orleans has Entrepreneur Week, with the aim to showcase New Orleans as a "Startup City", and now Tucson has its own multi-track festival: 10West, bringing together its own flavors of entrepreneurship, technology and the New Creative Class.

The 10West Festival aims to foster a creative and technological environment with the long-term goal of attracting and retaining talent in Southern Arizona. As Executive Director of the festival, Greg Teesdale describes it, it's: "the 20-40 year old demographic, the streetcar line geographic, and the October 18-24 chronologic." Teesdale has been a pillar of the Tucson growth ecosystem with his many roles, including curriculum advisor for Startup Tucson and a member of Desert Angels (the third most active venture group in the United States).

The idea of having a localization for an event and a movement, which 10West is, helps bring focus to a town's economic development. It also creates a center where geeks, artists, and bankers can come together, meet each other, exchange ideas, learn from each other, and network. And, in a town like Tucson, similar to Austin and Portland, all three contingencies participate, relish, and enjoy the very creative energy existing in each town.

The inspiration behind 10West came last year when Idea-funding founder Larry Hecker, some key players at Desert Angels and other startup initiative organizing groups felt there was an opportunity to leverage various events into something collective, bigger, and with a larger scope.

While "this thing," as Teesdale calls it, didn't have a name, mission, logo, or website, they held it at Startup Tucson in February 2014 and from there all themes and definitions were decided.

This year it's grown into its own. The Tech track features workshops, panels, and talks on cutting-edge technology (3D printing, virtual reality, "Internet of things"). The Entrepreneurship track has sessions on: building a company, access to capital, essential skills needed (and more). The Creative track addresses the live-work aspect with network mixers, music, entertainment and programming on the business of entertainment. The festival closes with an Art Walk along East Toole Avenue on October 24th featuring musicians, food trucks, artworks for sale, art sculptures and performance artists.

The importance of bringing these three components (entrepreneurs, investors, and artists) together cannot be underestimated. I've seen the power of the momentum created at these sorts of events, an energy that creates a ripple-effect, spilling into nearly every aspect of a town and its development economically, financially, and artistically. From what I've seen of the enthusiasm Tucson's business leaders have for its future, 10West is sure to grow into a vibrant annual event that will be drawing an international audience. Held in October, the Tucson climate is the minimum of attractive features. Amazing, healthy food and a diverse vibrant culture drawing from the Native American and Mexican influence adds another star-feature unique to the Southwest.

It easy to see from the 10West website that this festival has grown immensely from a handful of groups to include significant supporters including the Arizona Commerce Authority, Research Corporation for Science Advancement, New York Life, Desert Angels and many others, in-kind sponsorships from partner organizations Hotel Congress, Rialto Theater, Tucson Museum of Art and Connect Coworking, and media sponsors including Clear Channel Outdoors, Arizona Daily Star, Arizona Bilingual and others.

All the organizers and supporters believe there is no magic bullet to jump start economic development overnight, and are in this for the long-haul through cooperation and participation. They believe if there are a series of small wins every day, and keep these wins coming, Southern Arizona will easily be seen as a vibrant cultural and technological place to thrive professionally and personally.