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South by Southwest (SXSW) 2024: Unleashing Creativity and Innovation

Every year, thousands of forward-thinking minds gather in the vibrant city of Austin, Texas, for one of the most influential events in the world of technology, entertainment, and the arts – South by Southwest (SXSW), or you might hear it called “South-by” in casual conversation. This annual extravaganza is a global phenomenon and a must-attend event for creative professionals, industry leaders, and anyone seeking a dose of inspiration. 

So, what is SXSW, and why is it so important? SXSW is a unique convergence of interactive, film, and music festivals, all bundled together in a continuous 10-day experience. Founded in 1987, this event has evolved from a local music festival into a global incubator of ideas, displaying groundbreaking work, and facilitating networking opportunities across diverse industries. 

What does SXSW cover?

There are four major components of SXSW: EDU, Interactive, Film, and Music. Each component provides fresh takes, celebrates creatives and offers new experiences in vastly different sectors.


The event starts with SXSW.EDU, focused on innovation and learning in the education industry. In this component of the event, diverse speakers come together to present groundbreaking ideas tackling complex educational issues, aiming to create a better pedagogic future for learners everywhere. 


SXSW Interactive explores the future of innovations and trends by bringing emerging technology, marketing, and finance experiences to attendees. The Interactive tracks are brought by thought leaders and enthusiasts who provide attendees with insights into advancements and disruptions that shape our world. These insights come in the form of interactive sessions, panels, workshops, demonstrations, and exhibitions. 


The Film festival celebrates the art of storytelling, attracting renowned directors, actors, writers, and producers. Attendees can screen premieres, attend thought-provoking discussions, and connect with film industry professionals. It is an invaluable platform for independent filmmakers seeking recognition and distribution. 


The Music festival, the founding pillar of SXSW, highlights established and emerging musicians from around the world. It is a week-long celebration of music, where attendees can discover new talent, attend live performances, network with industry professionals, and witness the future of the music industry unfold. 

SXSW stands out among events for fostering creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Professionals, artists, and dreamers from all walks of life attend this event. From CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to aspiring musicians, filmmakers, tech enthusiasts, and media moguls, South by Southwest provides a unique meeting ground for the cross-pollination of ideas across different sectors. It offers an exceptional platform to forge new connections and uncover groundbreaking opportunities. 

PanelPicker – how speakers are selected

The SXSW PanelPicker is a two-step online process that empowers the community to help shape the event’s programming. PanelPicker allows anyone to submit a proposal for a panel discussion, presentation, or workshop, and the community then votes on which sessions they would like to see at SXSW. This democratic approach ensures an inclusive and diverse event that reflects the interests and passions of the attendees. 

Speaking at SXSW is very competitive. As such, for many speakers, the opportunity to speak at the event can lead to important business and career opportunities. Innovation Women, Lioness’ parent company, hosted a webinar earlier this year to provide speakers with more information and guidance on submitting to PanelPicker. While this year’s deadline has passed, the webinar offers terrific insight from a SXSW content expert. 

The SXSW PanelPicker for 2024 is currently open for voting between August 8 to August 20, 2023. Check out Lioness Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Bobbie Carlton’s PanelPicker submission

SXSW pitch 

The Pitch program is another highlight of SXSW, offering a platform for startups to present their innovative ideas in front of a panel of experts, industry leaders, and potential investors. SXSW Pitch is in its 16th year highlighting some of the global startup ecosystem’s potentially life-changing, innovative technology. Companies can pitch the latest ideas in Artificial Intelligence, Voice & Robotics; Enterprise & Smart Data; Entertainment, Media & Content; Extended Reality and Web3 Future of Work; Food, Nutrition & Health; Innovative World Technologies; Smart Cities, Transportation & Sustainability; Student Startup; to a panel of industry experts, early adopters, and representatives from the Venture Capital/Angel Investor community. This year Pitch has added a category for student startup founders. 

SXSW’s Pitch program has launched numerous successful startups like Siri, ICON, and more, highlighting the impact SXSW’s pitch program has on the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Interested and qualifying startups can apply now for the competition, where top finalists can match with top investors from all over the world to access funding for their ideas. 

Pitch eligibility criteria 

  • The company’s product and/or service must have been conceived no earlier than March 9, 2022. 
  • Each company may only enter one product or service into SXSW Pitch. A company that enters multiple products or services is not eligible to participate in SXSW Pitch. 
  • SXSW encourages startups to apply to multiple SXSW competitions. These include Pitch, Innovative Awards, and SXSWEDU Launch (if you are an education-related startup). But because SXSW wants to display as many different compelling startups as possible, a startup will only be selected as a finalist in one of these three competitions. 
  • Founders of the company applying must retain some portion of ownership. 
  • The Company must have raised less than eight (8) Million Dollars in funding from combined funding sources. 
  • Startups should be legally registered and compliant with all relevant regulations and laws in their respective jurisdictions. 
  • The product or service must fall into one of the Pitch categories. 

SXSW is a remarkable event that encapsulates the spirit of creativity, innovation and collaboration. It brings together visionaries and luminaries across industries and offers a platform for networking, discovery, and inspiration. With its blend of technology, film and music, the festival remains a source of renewal and transformation. Attendees can experience the forefront of their fields and immerse themselves in the incredible, dynamic energy that fuels progress. 

About the author

Jessica Zang

Jessica Zang is a student at the University of Chicago studying Economics and English Literature. At school, she writes columns for the newspaper, contributes to the fashion magazine and is part of the Women in Business organization. Outside of school, she loves reading, hiking, making her own lattes, exploring the city and any type of arts and crafts.

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