Walking into Twiistup 5 was like walking into a tech-set Disneyland -- the high security, lasers, fog machines, and neon props from Bladerunner adding to the surreal experience of being surrounded by the latest in groundbreaking technology. In fact, it would seem more like a test lab (or the Jetsons' garage) than a party if it weren't for the meandering Catwomen, cigar rollers and over 1000 polished revelers (the waitlist topped out at 450). Put together by Freshwata and held in a private airplane hangar in Santa Monica, the metaphorical and literal buzz surrounding the event was simultaneously overwhelming and energizing. I was humbled by the sheer amount of activity and innovation of every single one of the "showoffs," or top ten startups on the precipice of something revolutionary.
Technology geeks "deal with it" daily on an almost cellular level, but that doesn't mean they can't have a phenomenal time while doing so -- dressing up and snapping pics in the Cliques mobile photo booth, playing Rock Band at the Girl Gamer table, getting their makeup done by expert Audie Metcalf at eHow, downing Twiistup Tinis and eating what little they could find of Kogi BBQ before the mobs devoured it.
Started two years ago by Mike Macaadan, Tsavo Media VP of Product and Design, it is clear that the bi-annual Twiistup (much like Tsavo's newly unveiled semantic search function) focuses on the individual attendee. Macaadan sees the event as the ultimate design project, with emphasis on maximizing user experience. There were so many goodies and novel ways of interacting at the event (SMS scavenger hunt! Why not?) that attendees were bound to connect with meaningful content. Whether you're an entrepreneur, startup, investor, founder, or person in entertainment wanting to get into tech (or vice versa), there was something at Twiistup to spark your imagination.
Although Macadaan aims to bridge "the gap between media, entertainment and the investment community," he emphasized that Twiistup is not singularly a networking event. "It's an event to discover new stuff, new connections, new innovations, new jobs -- the latest and greatest things," he beamed as he led me around the somewhat chilly hangar for a tour of the "showoffs," companies culled from over 100 submissions. His enthusiasm was contagious. Working fervently and passionately on Twiistup for the past two years, Mike Macadaan has earned the recent tech explosion. Twiistup 5 was laser-bright spotlight amidst the looming clouds of depression hype. "Amazing things happen when you get those people together, creativity we haven't even begun to see," Mike said and echoed the sentiments of many by stating further, "I want to speed it up in my lifetime."
Immersing people in a creative atmosphere is the best way to speed it up, as judge Brian Solis pointed out. "This thing is so much bigger than all the parties, it's about the social economy, the one on one interactions between all of the entrepreneurs," Solis emphasized as he spoke of a post-geographical need to contribute to something bigger. L.A.'s penchant for creativity makes it the perfect incubator, and the perfect location for Twiistup. Judge Sarah Lacy, whose thumbs up is about as good as it gets in tech (she wrote the seminal Business Week article on Kevin Rose) explained it thus: "The [Silicon] Valley tends to look down on L.A., but location is irrelevant when you're talking about ideas."
Nicole Jordan, the fresh-faced Director of Communications for sponsor Rubicon Project likened Twiistup to what is beautiful about the social Web: "Community exists as you define it." In the Internet world it is the ideas and the meaningful content that define the space. "We're all in the same battle, the people who get ahead are the ones who get it, and that's L.A.," Jordan said.
After meeting the entrepreneurs behind Causecast (a site that attempts to bring non-profits up to Web 2.0 speed), Cogi, eHow, FixYa (who gave out mini tool kits), GoGreenSolar, Meebo, RoboDynamics, TheScene, Viewdle (an app that recognizes faces in video, making it super easy to search the web for your favorite viral vids) and Yammer, I was transfixed by how many of them were running on pure passion, excitement, and toddler sippy cups of Petron provided by Totspot.
Lined up around the perimeter of the room to demonstrate their products and services, the event sponsors were just as industrious and even more unpronounceable, including (but not limited to) the aforementioned Tsavo, Chi.mp (a Web identity hub), Whrrl (which was giving out a free iPhone app ), Mail Room Fund, (the closest thing you'll get to a hip VC firm), Rubicon Project, Scour, and Zannel (responsible for the Catwomen).
As the "showoffs" vied to impress the extraordinary panel of judges (superstar tech journalist and author Sarah Lacy, social media maestro and PR 2.0 founder Brian Solis, Somewhat Frank creator Frank Gruber, Citrusbyte head Will Jessup, Mixergy founder Andrew Warner and Heavybagmedia minx Jackie Peters), each start-up put it's best foot forward. The collective genius for talent spotting at Twiistup is high -- past "finds" include Good Reads and Mint.com, both services I actually use, a lot.
Merited on whether they "meet a real unmet need, solve a real problem, and dominate in their space," with bonus points for logistic successes like operating with a low budget or small team, Cogi, a phone call transcribing service and winner of the Judge's Prize, scored free workspace at Blankspaces, free hosting from Mediatemple and a meeting with Tech Coast Angels, a VC firm (i.e. possible financing). People voted for the fan pick online or at the event by dropping little gems into the companies' respective bowls. Totspot with their mommy blogger niche appeal won the hearts of the crowd -- and the Petron sippy cups didn't hurt, either.
Check www.twiistup.com for Twiistup6 updates and read Gendy Alimurung's article, "Dot-Com Again? Behind the Scenes of L.A.'s "Twiistup" Networking Phenomenon."