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Hackney, Austin and Oslo reunite at Digital Shoreditch 2015

The people who’ve been executing global exchanges between some of the leading international tech cities came together last night to celebrate Oslo officially joining the group and to open #DS15.

Fred Schmidt, who has spearheaded these efforts from Austin and first started visiting London when the creatives were all hanging out in Soho back in the 60s, said of Hackney’s tech scene: “I’ve finally found the people I  last saw 30 years ago.”

The transnational tech and creative group, Austin Hackney United, which took Hackney startups to SXSW 2014 under the ‘Hackney House Austin’ banner, is now made up of more than 400 companies, organisations, artists, musicians, institutions and writers, even two churches. They are all working together to create opportunities among the participating cities.

Schmidt is part of the largest accelerator in Texas, the Capital Factory,  and his latest venture there, Touchdown Austin, seeks to make it as easy as possible for companies to head across the pond and set up in Austin. Giving startups a “soft landing,” he said.

The programme is in soft launch but Touchdown has already signed up Oslo’s Kahoot! as its first participant and is hoping to get the Oslo Innovation Centre and several more companies on board before it makes an official opening announcement.

Marit Hartmann, director of communications for the Olso Business Region, a limited company owned by the city, explained that since the global oil price dropped so significantly, and the threat of global warming has increased at the same time, this is the perfect time to transform the country’s economy.

Of the Nordic’s more unique attributes, she said: “Norway is one of the most equal cities in the world, we have a female PM, and we know the startup scene needs empowering.”

“We need to bring forward much more female power in the tech scene and we think Norway is already doing better than other countries in the world.”

Schmidt agreed this was an opportunity to “help solve some of the world’s biggest problems – and make some cool new stuff.”

Schmidt, from the Austin side, together with Duncan Ray of the Regeneration team of Hackney Council have been doing a lot of the driving in this partnership over the past three and a half years.

They revealed plans to transfer much of the responsibility over to a couple of other colleagues, including Andy Jones, who is a Hackney native but has been living in Austin the past 11 years and was part of the original Digital Trade Mission in January 2012, and Giles McCrary, who was born in Austin but has lived in London the past 17 years. McCrary also serves as consort to the Speaker of Hackney Council.

The group was also celebrating the success of a 2014 partnership between Hackney Community College and Austin Community College, which saw student teams from both cities collaborate to solve marketing problems for major global companies including British Airways and Adobe Systems.

Young people from Hackney were then able to demo live on stage in the US city at SXSW Interactive, an event that will be replicated at #DS15 on Thursday.

Having now made the Hackney/Austin relationship into a “threesome”, a fourth city, Dublin, may also be looking to join forces. The new Gravity Centre co-working space in Dublin has just signed an agreement with Capital Factory,  creators and hosts of the Touchdown Austin programme,  to make it easier for entrepreneurs to startup across these cities too.

Cian O’Cuilleanain from Gravity Centre said at the event in Hackney: “Given the size of our population, startups have to be thinking internationally from day one. The partnership with Austin makes so much sense, particularly from an investment perspective.”

The Shoreditch crowd was packed with examples of companies that have hopped from Hackney to Austin, including Clarify.io and Tripchamp, and those that have made the switch the other way, like WP Engine and Spredfast.

Even craft brewing exchanges are preparing to take place between the cities, which have a “spirit” in common that also includes cycling and great music, Schmidt explained.

Hackney’s Beavertown Brewery co-hosted the evening’s event and is expected to make its debut in Austin at SXSW 2016, while the US city’s Tito’s vodka was also on the menu last night.