Silicon Hills Startups: The Companies Defining Austin as a Major Tech Startup Destination
As you probably know by now, the UX Connections team will soon be attending SXSW. So, we wanted to focus a bit on the city in which it’s hosted – Austin, Texas. This city has a long history of being the birthplace of some very successful businesses, it was even nicknamed ‘Silicon Hills’ in the 1990s due to a cluster of high-tech companies setting up offices within the area. To this day it still stands as a home for tech – big and small. As it has been proven to be an ever-expanding tech hub, we thought we’d discuss a few of these Austin-born tech startups that have found superb success within the city we’ll soon be visiting, whether that’s due to impressive expansion or immense innovation.
Let’s dive in and take a look at our first Austin Tech Startup: WP Engine. If you have ever built a website, or thought about building one, you probably have heard of WordPress – over 40% of the web is built on it. However, despite the fact that WordPress is a great platform, you might feel you need a helping hand when working on it, and that is where WP Engine finds its value. Over 10 years ago Jason Cohen (now the CTO at WP Engine) created the company together with Ben MetCalfe and Cullen Wilson. With Jason’s expertise in software development as well as in business, WP Engine set out to provide solutions to WordPress users, including more rapid website building, easier plugin management, and managed WordPress hosting.
Founded in 2010, WP Engine is a tech startup born and raised in Texas. Up until today, its primary office is still based in Austin. Whilst WP Engine’s roots stay in the Texan ground, it never stops expanding. Now it is a leading brand in the industry with more than 1000 employees and a tech company fuelled by women’s power as it is led by Heather Brunner, the chairwoman and CEO. With Heather’s leadership, WP Engine has achieved strong growth globally and at the same time been named a Great Place to Work for Women. WP Engine serves as an example of what a startup can become with hard work, determination, and a great idea. It certainly cements Austin as a powerful place to be within the tech world.
The second Austin tech start-up on our list is DISCO. Not a music company, as the name may suggest, but a legal tech platform designed for lawyers. Founded in 2012 by Gabe Krambs, Kent Radford and Kiwi Camara, DISCO is now a leading legal software company with over 400 law firms using their product! The company has only been around for a decade, and during this time they have grown massively, with total investment equaling $233.6 Million, making DISCO one of the most invested startup companies in the USA.
DISCO uses AI and other complex technologies to simplify and automate tasks to, in turn, create better results. According to Kiwi Camara, CEO and founder, lawsuits can include millions of documents that need to be revised in order to find evidence. This is where he, and his co-founders, saw a business opportunity and DISCO was born. With the use of AI this process can be 30-50% faster, and lawyers can instead invest their time on strategic issues, and actually practise law. This modern technology has well and truly disrupted the legal industry, and again, shown Austin to be a city of forward-thinking innovators who can take a startup and make it a fully functioning, successful company.
The last Austin-based tech start-up on our list is Athena Security: a company that is producing some of the most innovative technology we’ve seen. Founded by Lisa Falzone and Chris Ciabarra back in 2018, they have managed to secure $5.6M in funding within just four years. Their main offerings are two pieces of technology: the Elevated Body Temperature Checking System and the Concealed Weapons Detection System. With these products, Athena aims to provide a new, modern way of keeping the public safe from that which aims to harm us, germs included!
According to their website, the Elevated Body Temperature Checking System works by ‘identifying elevated body temperature in a fast, frictionless, and contactless screening’. It is then able to send digital alerts, in real time, if your temperature may be a cause for concern. In pre-pandemic times, this technology may have been thought of as unnecessary, but as the last few years have shown us: there is a definitive need for this in our society. If people could be alerted to a possible fever, they would not only be able to prepare themselves for an upcoming illness, but also keep those around them safer by keeping distance between them.
As for their Concealed Weapons Detection System, it’s something you could imagine being used in the film ‘Minority Report’ – a product that can ‘detect a wide range of mass casualty threats like handguns, shotguns, and rifles’ by using metal detectors 10 times faster and more accurate than current technology. It can ignore everything considered harmless, so much so that no one has to even stop whilst being scanned. Again, if something is detected, an alert can be sent to those who need to know, with a picture included. Lisa Falzone said that when she started a family, she knew that she had to do something to fight the growing issue of school shootings, so that her, and all, children can grow up in a safer world – so she founded Athena.
These are just a few examples of the successful, innovative and forward-thinking tech startups made in Austin. Whether it’s web-based, created to streamline lengthy processes, or AI used for the greater good of society, it’s clear that the ideas (and people behind them) that are coming out of Austin are some of the best in the US. We cannot wait to visit as part of our SXSW trip, and see for ourselves the impressive work being done there.
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