Austin Startup Games seek to showcase tech company culture

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Bragging rights are on the line Jan. 24 at the fourth annual Austin Startup Games, a 15-team contest featuring the city's fastest-growing technology companies.

Rather than solve the tech industry's greatest puzzles, teams instead will face off to decide the best company culture in Austin,said Gillian Wilson, an entrepreneur and co-founder of the Startup Games. Events include ping pong, foosball, shuffleboard and other company break room main stays.

"Especially in the startup community in Austin, everyone likes to have community engagement and a great social purpose within the community, but most startups don't have the funds to do full-time community outreach," Wilson said. "This gives them an outlet to not only compete in a fun environment with other tech companies, but it also gives [them] that outlet so many people in our workforce really want."

The Startup Games also includea philanthropic component, Wilson said, byraising sponsorship money thatis awarded to a charity ofeach team's choosing. The amount each charity earns is based on how their corresponding team finishes, she said.

This year, the competition will give away $40,000 in donations, Wilson said. In total, more than $100,000 has been donated since the games started, she said.

Austin-based tech company SpareFoot, creators ofthe world's largest online self-storage marketplace, return as two-time defending champions. The team has donated more than $40,000 to its charity, Kure It Cancer Research, since the games started, SpareFoot co-founder Chuck Gordon said.

But the games also help bond the city's technology companies, Gordon said.

"I have met a whole bunch of people I never would've met otherwise who I've since become friends with," he said. "We've even hired people we met [at the Startup Games]."

As the event grows, the requirements for entry have also tightened, Wilson said. Teams must be comprised ofAustin-based, privately held companies with 250 employees or less, meaning eight past participants no longer qualify, she said.

As a result, an effort is underway to create the "Middle-Weight" Games, she said. SpareFoot is likely to outgrow the Startup Games after this year, Wilson and Gordon agreed, meaning this year is three-peat or bust for the tech company.

"To us, it's a sign of success," Gordon said.

There are also efforts to bring the Startup Games to other tech scenes in Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, Wilson said. One or two of those cities could host their own games by this fall, she said.

"Eventually, we would love to get all these cities going and do a national championship by 2017 or 2018 during South by SouthwestInteractive in March," Wilson said. "But right now we're focusing one event a time."

This year's Austin event begins at noon Jan. 24 at Vintage Innovations' Innovation Station, 1409 W. Third St. The public is invited to attend. Any attendees who bring a $10 donation and a canned good receive a free T-shirt.
By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.