Editor’s note: Jim Roberts, executive director of the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNC Wilmington, is in Austin for South by Southwest, and he’s providing exclusive reports for WRAL TechWire. Here’s the first. (In the second, Roberts reports on Steve Case’s speech about disruption.)

AUSTIN, Texas – Austin welcomes 100 new residents every day and on top of that stretched transportation infrastructure, thousands of geeks have arrived this week for the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival. This tech event has become an incredible recruiting tool as very pale techies get off the planes from the cold Midwest and land in the warm March sun in the Hill Country of Texas where Michael Dell built an empire. (And is now building a medical school in downtown Austin with his name on it.)

The Interactive Festival has become bigger than the film and music festival that were the original parts. Founding Executive Director of SxSW Interactive Hugh Forrest was our keynote speaker at our inaugural Coastal Connect in Wilmington, NC last September that helped us draw 300 attendees and open some eyes in the South to what is possible on the coast. Forrest gave our organization five conference badges for our startups so we created a “Value Prop Pitch Contest” with 12 contestants to help us pick the five winners with the help of Triangle rock star judges such as Merrill Mason, Brooks Malone, Chip Royce and a recent TechStars graduate Alex Vidor, who is back in Wilmington.

In a conference this size, there are so many concurrent sessions, of course you want to be in five places at once. The conference agenda brochure is 240 pages long. What an interesting start to the day, as an older executive from a startup tech product company didn’t seem to know he was part of a judged pitch competition. He seemed combative with the judges who were asking him the tough questions and he kept asking for audience questions. The pitches got better after that and the energy was helped by the moderator who asked that the audience give an energetic standing ovation before all of the pitches to support the entrepreneurs as some of the people were showing their nerves on the big stage.

I sincerely enjoyed the Charles Barkley fireside chat with a Richard Deitsch, NBA writer that covers New York Knicks. Sir Charles, who does not use ANY social media, certainly showed his feistiness by roasting the Knicks in the opening greeting. Barkley was also invited as an antagonizer as he is not a fan of managing sports franchises by data analytics. “Analytics is just an expensive way to say statistics” was a statement that got a laugh. The most memorable quote was “Being famous is like being the homecoming queen, all the ugly girls hate you.” My second favorite quote could have come out of my mouth, “People love it when you are honest, until they disagree with you on that topic.”

I was just excited about the title of the next panel called “The South and Midwest Matter More Than NY and SF”. While I was hoping to hear best practices about making some noise to get your startup community noticed, two female entrepreneurs discussed their experience in Silicon Valley but have now expanded outside of the Valley and found additional success. Melody McClaskey told the story about how hard it was to make progress while in the very busy startup world within Silicon Valley. Her StyleSeat business began to take off in other urban areas such as Atlanta as the OpenTable service for Salons and beauty services. While they listed other tech hubs, they oddly left out the Durham market so I chimed in to explain the American Underground and our own startup progress in Wilmington with companies like NextGlass since the other panelist Ligaya Tichy had worked at Yelp and AirBNB. Tichy is now an investor and seems to be finishing a book to be released soon.

The final panel of the day also had a great title, “Unicorn #2: How Entrepreneurs Choose the Next Idea”. Bob Fabbio is one of the true rockstars of the Texas technology industry with the HUGE success at Tivoli Systems and eventual acquisition by IBM. Fabbio worked with Austin Ventures and is now an investor in the accelerator Capital Factory.

My favorite panelist of the day was Dean Drako, CEO of Barracuda Networks who is the smart entrepreneur who starts businesses from a personal painful need and creates a company to be the solution to that pain. Drako is a no nonsense genius with a new company called Eagle Eye Networks since Barracuda had their IPO. Eagle Eye Networks is a cloud based video surveillance company. Drako is also part of the Capital Factory and an angel with the Central Texas Angel Network.

Well I gotta go so I can rest up for the Steve Case “Rise of the Rest” tour in Austin where by Sunday he will agree to invest $150,000 in a startup here at the Festival. I plan to reach out to Mr. Case and invite him and the tour to Wilmington at the North Carolina coast. (Sorry if this seems a bit unfocused as I had one eye on the ACC Basketball tournament. Go Heels since my Florida Gators lost for the third time to Kentucky.)

Editor’s note: Jim Roberts is the Executive Director of the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNC Wilmington. The accelerator opened in September 2013 and already has 40 companies at the coast. You can follow Jim at @uncw_startups while he is at SxSW and to stay tuned to entrepreneurship on the coast.

“These opinions are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of UNCW.”