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Start-Up Spotting at SXSW


This year’s SXSW delivered a fresh crop of start-ups pushing the boundaries of technology, writes Marie Stafford, global director at Wunderman Thompson Intelligence

Start-Up Spotting at SXSW
The SXSW conference in Austin, Texas was back in-person this year after a three-year pandemic-induced hiatus. The full force of real-life experience felt like a minor miracle in a world still struggling with restrictions. And while somewhat scaled-down compared to 2019’s event, the 10-day 2022 edition still managed to induce the usual ‘FOMO,’ with hundreds of events across 15 conference tracks and nine themed summits. 

A key event for future gazers, the SXSW Pitch Awards was back for its fourteenth year. The awards, which aim to match promising cutting-edge start-ups with potential investors, are a great place to spot future unicorns. Over the years 2009 to 2021, 572 companies have participated, with 83% going on to receive funding and former winners include household names from Klout to Siri.

This year’s 45 contenders had to pitch to a live audience and a seasoned expert panel before battling it out at the final awards ceremony. In a year in which female founders were strongly represented, here’s our pick of some of the standout start-ups to watch.  

Hilos: Cleaning up fashion’s waste problem

It’s claimed that 24 billion pairs of shoes are made every year, with one in five of those pairs going to landfill. HILOS, this year’s winner of Best in Show in the Innovative World Technologies category, is determined to disrupt this wasteful practice by collaborating with brands to create their own on-demand 3D printed footwear. The approach ensures that stock is aligned with demand, and at the end of life, the shoes can be returned, making the process circular and sustainable. The innovative design process itself combines the insole, midsole, and outsole into one single piece, allowing for greater recyclability. The Oregon-based business has already partnered with the Austin-based brand HELM to launch a 3D printed line alongside its own footwear designs, and collabs with other fashion labels are also in the works. "Our message at SXSW was a simple one,” said Gaia Giladi, co-founder, and chief creative at HILOS. “How we make things matters.” 

Matsuko’s Holographic Communication

Remote collaboration is rapidly becoming the standard for business, but Zoom calls still don’t quite deliver on a sense of togetherness. Enter Slovakian start-up Matsuko, which is bidding to usher in a new era of holographic communication via its mixed reality app. It can conjure lifelike 3D holograms, crucially in real-time, for XR glasses or even just a smartphone. CEO and co-founder Maria Vircikova explained that the technology can deliver a more realistic sense of presence saying, “People can stream their hologram in real-time to others on the call, sharing the feeling that they are all together in the same room.” The company, which won the pitch award in its category of XR and Immersive Experiences, is already building a roster of European telco partners and will initially focus on the B2B market. 

Unpacking a Healthier Workplace Culture

In the race for talent, creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is now an imperative for any business. When it comes to training though, much of what’s on offer can be rudimentary. Unpacking is a professional network for diversity, equity, and inclusion that provides gamified and collaborative learning for teams to help build a healthier workplace culture.  Founded by Kristina Williams, who was the winner of the Best Speed Pitch trophy at the awards, the start-up has recently earned a grant from Beyonce’s BeyGood Foundation Small Impact Fund. The Unpacking solution combines interactive gamified learning with small group sessions and workshops and fireside chats. Six modules offer learning across anti-racism to LGBTQ rights, gender rights, disability rights, sustainability, and product inclusion. 


Marie Stafford is global director at Wunderman Thompson Intelligence

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Wunderman Thompson USA, Mon, 28 Mar 2022 14:03:35 GMT