Austin’s annual SXSW music, art and technology festival officially kicked off today, and it’s already clear that there will be at least one central focus for the show: the ongoing collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and its fallout.
I landed this morning and overheard people talking about it on my flight from Toronto (full of entrepreneurs, Shopify employees, and a few investors); a person asked me about it on the street without asking (the only person I stopped and talked to on the street); and I heard it discussed first as the crowd chattered and then as the first topic on a panel called “A Dog’s Life: Longevity Science Gets Serious” on extending the lifespan of dogs through advances in biological sciences.
That panel, featuring The Longevity Fund’s Laura Deming and Loyal’s Celine Halioua, and moderated by The Atlantic’s Andrea Valdez, began with Deming apologizing to the audience in advance for being a little distracted because she was “waiting for a cable to transfer [her fund’s] get money” while checking her phone. She then proceeded to look at her phone every time she wasn’t actively asked a question.
Halioua immediately followed up by pitying his investor, saying “all morning we’ve been trying to figure out where the hell to put our money.” Later, he also joked that the innovations his company is developing can “compound over time, just like the interest I won’t get on my bank deposits anymore,” to laughter from the crowd. Halioua wasn’t glued to her phone: she was looking at her Apple Watch without interruption.
Note that neither had funds directly with SVB; they were only concerned that their banking institutions might suffer knock-on effects.
Valdez asked a question about the impact of the SVB collapse to kick off the panel after both panelists offered their own comments, with Deming noting that, in case the audience didn’t know, this was indeed “the worst banking crisis since 2008” in terms of the world of startups.
If you’ve attended tech and startup conferences in the past, you know that panelists generally never have their devices on stage, nor do they actively check them out if for whatever reason they do. That, combined with the nervous laughter with which both the investor and the founder made their half-jokes, was truly remarkable to see.
Even before the session started, different groups, both in front and to my right, were talking about BLS, with different levels of familiarity with the situation. While you may think it’s early to call this the talk of the show – seeing that kind of candid anxiety on stage from established startup industry players and hearing the general buzz and tension from everyone else in the room – makes it clear that this year’s SXSW won’t be about anything it probably intended to focus on.