Reflections from Southland 2014

For those of you who weren’t at Southland last week, you missed some remarkable new startups, competitive rap battles and some fascinating conversations about mobile commerce. Three things were apparent from my view: Southland has the potential to be the next South by Southwest; innovation outside of Silicon Valley is gaining momentum; and developers can drop a beat.

Southland brought together entrepreneurs, thought-leaders and influencers from around the country to discuss everything from new technologies to net neutrality to increasingly large valuations. People came to Nashville from across the U.S. to share ideas, create connections and get inspiration from the success stories of their peers. This especially strikes a chord with me as I’m from Kentucky and Braintree was born in Chicago - I, more than most, recognize and appreciate that technology innovation is alive and thriving in many places outside Silicon Valley. In fact, the experience at Southland reminds me of how SXSW used to feel - scrappy, exciting and an opportunity to facilitate innovation anywhere in an offbeat way. It was awesome to see great ideas brewing from companies with diverse backgrounds, and how impressed the folks from the Valley were by the talent in the South.

Startups from the area like Nashville-based Artiphon and Memphis-based Screwpulp pitched their companies during the Southland Pitch Competition to a tough slate of judges, and I was thrilled that the company I was fortunate enough to mentor in the competition, SrPago, won the top prize - a $100,000 investment. They have a great product and business plan for payments in Mexico, a vibrant, budding economy that few in payments have been able to crack. Events like these remind me - and Silicon Valley - that entrepreneurs and great ideas can, and do, flourish everywhere.

I’d be remiss in leaving out the PitchHop Ignition competition we hosted just outside the main venue in a tricked-out bus turned recording studio. Nearly 40 innovative startups -- many of which were based in the South or outside of the Valley -- created rap pitches to compete for automatic entrance into PayPal’s Blueprint program. Even though we were in Nashville where the music scene is awesome, I have to admit I was really surprised by the quality of the raps and even more impressed by the startups behind them. You can check out the PitchHop winners here.

I can’t wait to see what the Pando/Southland team has in store for us next year. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be another great celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation in front of the colorful backdrop of Nashville. We’ll be there doing our part to help all the great entrepreneurs - and joining in the celebration!

Bill Ready Bill is the SVP, Global Head of Merchant and Next-Gen Commerce at PayPal. Previously, Ready was the CEO of Braintree, leading the company through the 2013 acquisition by PayPal for $800 million. More posts by this author

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