Austin Texas is a Heaps Good sister-city

“Keep Austin Weird” are the words on their tie-died t-shirt. It’s a call to arms from the bohemians that grew Austin into a musical centre of gravity for the world. Austin is also a university town, so the average age is 31 and they’ve been graduating with the skills that excite many young people — technology. This powerful intersection of talents has evolved Austin’s SXSW conference into one of the biggest festivals in the world — not just for music, but also film and tech.

I visited SXSW this year with a delegation from Flinders University’s New Venture Institute and the City of Adelaide.

After a day wearing my South Australia “Heaps Good” tee, I could have swapped it 10 times over. The locals loved it and related it to their own cult tee. Austinites are funny, they don’t take themselves too seriously and they have a genuine love of their city’s cultural significance. Many weren’t aware of the sister-city relationship with Adelaide, but when I shared our focus on festivals, universities and innovation, the similarities become clear.

A conference-sized version of Adelaide Smart City Studio’s Lego Smart City Project (and my Heaps Good tee)

The reason for my visit was to explore new ways for our cities to collaborate.

Fortunately, both cities are early adopters of technology infrastructure, so platforms are in place to help make collaboration effective. In particular, the US Ignite Network which encompasses the GIG City initiative. (Details in the footer). These platforms help create opportunities to make the sister-city relationship more than ceremonial.

There are a lot of ways I see that can strengthen the Austin-Adelaide relationship. I’ll highlight three in this article.

Smart Cities

Sherri Greenberg, Catherine Crago Blanton & Craig Watkins discuss the technologies and challenges of being a Smart City.

Adelaide and Austin are leaders when it comes to smart cities. Both have a desire to improve the way people experience their city’s services and spaces. We have a common focus in some areas – for example transport and mobility- but there are many other areas we could share our experience with our counterparts to accelerate learning and fast-track solutions. If we better connect the Technology Officers and Program Leaders using the tech platforms I mentioned above, Austin and Adelaide can transform faster. The ceremonial connections are strong at the diplomatic level, but interconnecting the people who are delivering the services and solutions could produce something really special.

For example, Adelaide has world renowned medical research and education institutions, including Flinders and University of Adelaide. Austin has the Dell Medical School as part of the huge University of Texas. Both cities have a focus on medical education, so connecting these institutions via the GIG City platform and its low latency system could allow for the real time remote operation of surgical equipment. Each university would expand its roster of specialists — sharing expert knowledge, practically applied, despite being 9,000 miles apart.


Capital Factory’s AR/VR Megalounge at SXSW

When discussing coworking, my favourite pitch to Government is, “coworking is the essential infrastructure of innovation”. Austin is a brilliant example of how true that is. Coworking’s impact on the economic landscape in Austin is evident and their dedication to helping startups succeed is creating profitable new companies, HQ’d out of Austin, that generate jobs and economic activity for the city. I didn’t get a chance to visit all 55 coworking spaces in Austin but, from what I saw, the spaces are well organised, specialised and have energetic leaders that foster enviable community cultures.

The Austin spaces haven’t combined to create an alliance yet but discussions are underway. I shared the experiences of Coworking South Australia Association, and the advocacy we’ve been able to achieve by having one voice for the industry in Adelaide. The groundwork is laid to connect our cities along coworking lines, and the leadership in Austin is eager to see the relationships translate into a skills and ideas transfer across the Pacific.

Startup Ecosystems

International VIP Happy Hour at BuildFax hosted by Tech Ranch

Adelaide is midway through its assent as a globally recognised startup ecosystem, so we can learn a lot from Austin, who rank among the top 20 ecosystems in the world.

The things that make an ecosystem conducive to startups is often found in the strength of its collaborative culture, the experience and engagement of its mentors, and the lifestyle the city offers. The cultural similarities between Adelaide and Austin make them ideal ecosystem allies. Feeding Adelaide startups into some of the well developed programs in Austin, like Capital Factory’s Touchdown Austin Program, would streamline an entry point to the US-market for Adelaide entrepreneurs.

More than ever before, entrepreneurs are blessed with the tools, resources, and market conditions to scale a company, globally. But the geography of innovation can be important, and Austin is a more manageable proposition than LA or NYC.

Tip of the Iceberg

I believe the sister-city relationship between Adelaide and Austin is going to evolve into something more reflective of the way businesses and communities interconnect in a digital world. The three examples above are just the beginning. There will be more collaboration opportunities to come. I look forward to facilitating these relationships where I can, and witnessing the sister-city relationship become a blueprint for how cities can help each other thrive.


US Ignite Network
Intrinsically linked to GIG Cities, US Ignite is a network of communities that have each committed to leveraging next-generation smart city and internet technologies to keep pace with the world’s rapidly changing IT-driven economy. US Ignite is a nonprofit organisation that fosters the development and deployment of advanced networking applications that will profoundly change the way people live, work and learn.

GIG City
Cities that offer gigabit-per-second fibre internet services are know as GIG Cities. The speeds on offer are hundreds of times the speed of the average internet connection, and open the door to unimagined ways of learning, playing and conducting business. Adelaide is the first international city to join the growing US program, creating new opportunities for innovative businesses to collaborate and share information.

Austin Texas is a Heaps Good sister-city was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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