Accelerator, and the Winners (If You Can Call it That)

Monday was the first ever SXSW Accelerator, and the roster was packed with 40% Texas companies, which I thought was pretty cool. I didn’t know that the rotating panel of judges was scoring the companies, but it’s a good idea to have the SXSW version of the DEMO God award. Despite the shortness of the 2-minute pitches, the judges had some really quality Q&A after the pitch with each company. After all the interactions, each judge would fill out their scoring form.

If there are four awards then my simplistic math says that 40% from Texas equals for sure one, possibly two awards for Texas companies. Somehow in a miraculous moment of clarity the west coast heavy panel chose all California companies as winners.  Huh? Seriously?

I don’t want to take anything away from the companies themselves that won, but I’m not sure the playing field is even. Let’s take Ribbit for instance.  Ribbit was founded in February of 2005 (is that still a startup?) and was sold to British Telecom for $105M in July of last year. So, of course Ribbit has a well rehearsed 2-minute pitch and a solid business model.  Lack of feces, Mr. Holmes.

So what does Ribbit have in common with companies like Hourville, or OtherInBox, or Piryx that are being bootstrapped by their founders and are starting to get some incredible traction? It makes me wonder what the judging criteria is.

Weardrobe was another winner, and a great idea. I thought it was cool two years ago when Ian Clarke’s fiance did the same thing. For the record, the other two winners were Tubemogul, and Popcuts. Congratulations to all the winners, I’m just not sure exactly what “winning” means.

About Bryan Menell

Bryan is the Managing Editor for AustinStartup and the CEO of Mahana. He is a co-founder of Capital Factory, an investor and advisor, and runs the popular Austin Tech Happy Hour with his wife.


  1. The issue with events like this is that there’s a huge, social- and familiarity- aspect to who wins. That is, the judges tend to vote for companies they are familiar with, who they know about, have used, etc. That’s why you’ll note that all of the winners were not only from California — they were all from Silicon Valley, because the startups there usually are well known, have probably pitched the venture capitalists in the judging panel, and get a lot more news coverage than the new, non-Silicon Valley companies. I don’t have firsthand knowledge of SXSW Accelerator, but in my past experience (unfortunately) the companies judges know best tend to be the ones who walk away with the prizes.

  2. I could be wrong, and have not researched the follow up point as to product launch timing… but I thought the Accelerator was product specific as opposed to company specific? Not sure the age of the Company was in fact a criteria.

    Also confused about the reference to Ian Clarke’s fiancee, probably because I simply do not know that reference. But is the implication that a winner must have not simply a new product, a never seen before product? By this thinking I guess Google’s search not have been able to win either, since Yahoo! had already done search? Maybe I could see this being a valid point in the “Innovative Web Technologies” category, but wasn’t Weardrobe was in the “Social Networking Applications” category?

    I’m all for “ditching the valley and heading for the hills,” don’t get me wrong – but also grateful for the CA (and other) participants and judges who made it a strong competition and conference.

  3. FYI – the Weardrobe competitor is, although it hasn’t really been very active over the last year and its creator has moved on to other things since.

  4. I’m not entirely sure that the judges were coast-biased, but it certainly was more than clear the there were companies in there that didn’t belong. I had no idea that ribbit was from 2005 and was sold to BT for a hundred million. That’s absolutely bonkers. What in the world were they doing in the accelerator? That is insane in the membrane. Same with others. Disappointing.