Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 27 2015

How One Of The Biggest Music Festivals Is Turning Into A Medical Meeting

By David McMillin


Photo from SXSW

When most people read the acronym SXSW, the first thought that comes to mind is a massive crowd of concertgoers reveling in the celebratory spirit of Sixth Street in downtown Austin. However, music isn’t the only ingredient that keeps Austin weird. Since 1987, South by Southwest has been steadily growing and welcoming more people and more types of programming to Central Texas’s creative hub. From launching mobile app Foursquare to premiering Academy Award-winning film The Hurt Locker, the conference and festival has become much more than a place for music fans. Today, SXSW is the ultimate destination for innovation in technology, film, sports, fashion, and now, medicine.

Wait, medicine? They’re adding a healthcare component to a conference grounded in indie rock music? It may seem like an odd combination, but the pairing is a perfect match.

“The health and med-tech industry is attracting a ton of attention from startups as well as established tech companies — so I think it is a great fit for what we do,” Hugh Forrest, Director, SXSW Interactive Festival, said when the festival announced the inaugural SX Health and MedTech Expo. “Moreover, Austin is at the epicenter of a lot of this attention, particularly with the addition of the University of Texas Dell Medical School and the many biotech entrepreneurs now setting up shop in Central Texas.”

The SX Health and MedTech Expo was held at the city’s new 1,012 room JW Marriott two blocks from the Austin Convention Center. In addition to elevating the conversation about trends in the current state of healthcare, it laid the groundwork to fuel the next generation of medicine with the Impact Pediatric Health Startup Pitch Competition. From a product that works to solve children’s sleeping disorders to a wearable technology that tracks a woman’s health during pregnancy, the companies among the competition’s finalists are already making waves around the healthcare industry.

Not Your Typical Approach to Medical Meeting Session Selection

Were the education sessions and speakers the same topics and names medical professionals can hear at a range of other conferences? Not likely. Many medical organizations rely solely on their faculty members and internal education departments to curate content, but SXSW takes a new approach to identifying the trends and issues that matter most to attendees.

With a proprietary tool called PanelPicker, the education selection process at SXSW empowers attendees to submit session proposals and vote for those they really want to see on the agenda. Organizers use community votes along with feedback from SXSW staff and an advisory board to make calculated programming decisions. In 2015, PanelPicker paved the way to an impressive slate of healthcare programming with educational sessions such as “Hacking the Brain: What’s Next for Neuro-Health”, “How to Democratize Medicine” and “Connected Health: Being Social Helps Your Heart.”

The result? The numbers show that the medical component helped fill a gap in the programming. More than 5,000 attendees participated in more than 40 education sessions and experienced new healthcare products from more than 70 exhibitors. As SXSW organizers gear up for the 2016 festival, they’re planning to expand the MedTech Expo with more exhibitors and more discussions topics in its second year.

A Community That Cares About Healthcare

The festival organizers in the SXSW office aren’t the only ones excited about the next wave of medicine. residents who call Austin home share an enthusiasm for the new frontier of healthcare. Voters in Travis County agreed to raise property taxes in 2012 to help fund the Dell Medical School.

The new school will benefit more than those who live in Austin, As more medical meeting professionals bring their attendees to Central Texas, they will be able to leverage the local academic community to further enrich their programming.

“A wide range of local partners and unprecedented collaboration with our community puts the medical school in the unique position of being a conduit between the rich health and healthcare ecosystem in Austin and visiting organizations,” John Daigre, Executive Director of Communications & External Affairs, Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, says.

This educational article was brought to you by Austin, Texas, a premier meetings destination that continues to thrive and attract a diverse set of successful companies involved in medical devices, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. As the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin prepares to welcome its first class in 2016, the city’s resources make an ideal match for medical meeting professionals. Click here to check out Austin’s Meeting Planner Guide and learn why your colleagues are taking their groups to Central Texas.

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