When the Casa México event kicks off Friday, it will be the first time the United States’ southern neighbor will have an official production of this size at the 30-year-old South by Southwest festival.
But with the institutional backing of Mexico’s government, a Mexican bastion of higher education and both established and up-and-coming business entities, the first Casa México hopes to make a splash.
“The principal mission is to display that Mexico is a global leader in entrepreneurship and culture,” said Carlos González Gutiérrez, consul general of Mexico in Austin and one of the lead people behind the event.
To that end, the event’s panels will include an array of top-level diplomats, Mexican business leaders and popular music acts. But the main goal is to show the world a side of Mexico that often gets lost in conversations about drug wars, a stymied economy and accusations of corruption.
“We want Casa México to help open the eyes of not only Texans, but of the thousands of people that come to the festival from around the world,” González Gutiérrez said. “We want them to see Mexico as what it is: a powerhouse in the creation and development of technology.”
In an attempt to highlight the opportunities for investment in those fields in Mexico, many of the event’s panels will feature speakers from Mexican startups such as Kiwilimon, a Mexican recipe website that has had success in an untapped Spanish-speaking food market.
The website’s Spanish-language cooking videos and cultural awareness — it currently highlights meatless dishes for Lent for its audience in a majority Catholic country — have earned it half a million registered users, a reach of 72 million on Facebook and 300,000 downloads for its smartphone application.
“The reason we got involved in South by Southwest is that we are at a point where we want to take Kiwilimon to international expansion,” said Lorenza Avila, the site’s co-founder, who will speak at a panel on the growth of women in the business sector. “We want to talk to funds or other people with deep pockets, but also connect with other up-and-coming digital companies.”
The inaugural Casa México has deep support from the country’s private and public sectors. Multiple entities of the Mexican government are involved, including the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Relations and the National Institute for Entrepreneurship. The private sector also came out in force. All in all, a public-private partnership is contributing $300,000 to put on the event.
Higher education also joined the fray. The Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most prestigious universities and one of the few Mexican institutions that had participated in the festival before, helped shape the event.
The university will bring a cohort of 35 businesses — in fields ranging from wearable technology to education — that are looking for growth and networking opportunities, said Daniel Moska, the school’s director of the institute of entrepreneurship. The hope, he said, is that the experiences those businesses acquire will help grow the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” in Mexico.
“We know the importance of South by Southwest Interactive,” Moska said. “It’s like when we send our soccer players abroad to play internationally. They come back with a whole other level of play.”
The event will run from Friday through Monday at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. The backers hope it will open the door to future collaborations and become an annual SXSW staple.
“We want to use this event to not just show our Texan neighbors, but to take advantage (of the fact) that South by Southwest is a window to the world, and show everyone that Mexico is emerging and innovative in the area of new technologies,” González Gutiérrez said. “And we want to do it in such a way that people get used to us coming back year after year.”