THE BLOG

Creative Tech Entrepreneurs Should Look Beyond Shoreditch and Palo Alto for Inspiration

19/03/2014 13:25 GMT | Updated 18/05/2014 10:59 BST

Every year SXSW is questioned for having made it too big; just as geeks have become mainstream, the festival is challenged for having lost the edgy ideas and weirdness that made its name.

The annual pilgrimage to SXSW Interactive brings over 35,000 of the world's technology tribes to Austin: from gaming indies to marketers to social hacktivists. It's overwhelming, noisy and disparate, but beyond the brand peacocking and funny glasses, it's still a hotbed of new ideas and useful connections, fuelled by an undeniable shared passion and fun.

It tackles the major questions shaping our future: personal and political questions of privacy, net neutrality, censorship and the ways technology will shape human interaction, science and art. It's of major interest globally - with over 74 countries represented, increased from 57 in 2013, demonstrating the growing number of digital and creative start-ups around the world. However the bulk of the many panel sessions, talks and related media focused on the places we already know well, such as San Francisco, USA, and London, UK.

We should spread some of our attention to other emerging markets, rather than focusing so much on the established and pressurised clusters. Tension is currently felt in some of the biggest tech hubs, with protests in San Francisco against the new Silicon Valley elite distorting rental prices and even resulting in a Google bus being smashed. In Hackney, home to a successful and largely organic start-up community latterly dubbed 'Silicon Roundabout', rent is also becoming increasingly unaffordable for start-ups and small creative businesses.

It's a well-trodden path. All cities with creative aspirations face this delicate balance: managing economic growth with being open to the independent, spontaneous and curious. And crucially, ensuring that diversity and eccentricity are not forced out purely because the community and their ideas are not primarily motivated by money or scale.

Beyond established hotspots such as the US and UK, there's a whole movement of other digital and creative hubs, from Nairobi to Recife and Jakarta to Cairo. Less obvious pools of ideas and talent: growing markets of youth consumers and the originators of new creative ideas, social innovation and cultural leadership.

The economic and infrastructure challenges of emerging markets are producing resourceful and ingenious solutions: mobile banking, micro-financing and books delivered via low-end SIM cards. Increasingly, these markets are testing new products and services before the West. In China, same day delivery - Jingdong now offers 3 hour delivery in major cities - has been common for a while, years before Google and Amazon's service become commonplace in our society.

New ways of collaborative working are developing interesting forms of community governance and leadership; tackling censorship and transparency and offering alternative political systems. Ridwan Kamil, Mayor of Bandung in Indonesia, was elected in 2013 with 45% of the vote, despite no previous political experience. He is an architect, designing offices, mosques and houses, and now runs a city of 2.5 million people.

I'm not suggesting that Shoreditch should move to Shenzhen, but maybe a few more brave and talented souls could jump off the SF/LDN/NYC trip, embrace the Minecraft mentality and be inspired by another valley somewhere off the beaten track.

SXSW is undoubtedly still important for gathering people, driving new ideas and new business. However, now that it has grown into a much bigger, brand-driven juggernaut, it's time to look for a new home for the ideas on the edge. It doesn't just need to be Portland or Peckham - I hope it might also be Lagos, Recife and Bandung.

Beatrice Pembroke is Director, Creative Economy at the British Council, a network of creative pioneers and inspiring international collaborations in a rapidly changing world. We seek out creative practitioners, industry leaders and academics who are exploring the frontiers between culture, enterprise, social development and technology. We connect them to experiences, opportunities and pioneers in other places and disciplines: http://creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org