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Despite budget cuts, DC presence at SXSWi expected to expand

DC swag at the WE DC SXSWi kickoff party, held not in Austin but in DC

When epic tech conference SXSWi kicks off in Austin on March 13, the District is planning on having a beefed-up presence, if not a beefed-up budget. In addition to more people, WDCEP has rolled out a new campaign, WE DC, and has launched several new initiatives to showcase the District's tech, music and burgeoning film scenes at the conference and festival.

"There were over 300 people from the D.C. region alone at the Digital DC party last year--and that was just tech," says Tiffany Thacker, director of Accelerate DC, a venture mentoring service for District entrepreneurs (and an offshoot of WDCEP). "We expect a much larger D.C. presence this year with tech, film, art, and music combined."

News broke last week that the city is planning to cut about $120,000 from the District's SXSWi budget, originally nearly $500,000. Those cuts were "part of the [City's] top-to-bottom review of the previous administration," says Julie Weber, marketing and communications director for WDCEP. "They are cutting costs across the board." (Weber later emailed Elevation DC to clarify that she does not speak for the administration  and was only stating her understanding of the situation.)

As a result, some events scheduled for the conference might change formats. "A panel discussion might turn into a fireside chat, or a roundtable VIP dinner," Weber says. But WDCEP is still taking over a nearby restaurant to create the WE DC house, a "refuge" where attendees can relax and recharge, and where partners like Foster.ly are holding events. Also still in the budget is Live Free in DC, a national startup pitch competition that will crown a winner on March 16.

Startups going to SXSWi and interested in applying to the competition can fill out a form. WDCEP will pick between three and six finalists to pitch in Austin; the winner of the competition will "live free and work in D.C. for three months, and hopefully stay," Thacker says. Applicants cannot already be operating in the D.C. metro area and cannot have received municipal funding; angel investment is okay.

"All of our events are still on schedule," Weber says. "We're just putting more people in a hotel room. We're having to be really creative. Our community partners are stepping up to the plate to keep our momentum going."

This article has been updated to reflect the following clarification. It originally stated that Mayor Muriel Bowser had "announced" the city was cutting its SXSWi budget; however, no such announcement has been made. Instead, the funding cuts were discussed during a meeting with the city and WDCEP, the Post reports. Elevation DC regrets the error.

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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