Peter Zandan made it cool to care. Three years ago, at a time when the Austin, Texas, technology world was dizzy with its own successes, Zandan was like many of his peers: He had money, cool technology and a lack of community. He knew little about the other technology players in town, and even less about how they were handling Austins explosive growth.
So Zandan, the founder of IntelliQuest and co-founder of Zilliant, along with Steve Papermaster, chief executive of Agillion, created the 360 Summit, an annual confab designed to raise money and increase the participation of high-tech companies in local charities and civic organizations.
Technology companies “have been divorced from local communities because their markets are worldwide, not local,” Zandan says. Because of that, he felt a lot of companies were “hiding.” But the tech companies were responsible for many of Austins growing pains, including worsening traffic and higher housing costs, and Zandan believed technology companies could no longer justify being aliens in their hometowns. “Our message to them was: Get involved. We dont care what it is, just get involved.”
The results have been positive. One outgrowth of the summit is a charitable organization that specializes in taking pre-initial public offering (IPO) stock options instead of cash from local entrepreneurs. Last summer, Vignette set aside $1 million to support Austins live-music scene.
About the same time, a group of tech executives jumped into the political scene by raising several hundred thousand dollars for a light-rail campaign. Although the proposition failed, it served notice: Austins technology companies care about growth issues and they will be a force in future political fights.
Zandan “had the vision and the guts to be the catalyst” for discussions about social responsibility, says Robin Rather, president of Austin-based Mindwave Research. And, Rather says, Zandan did it “at a time when it was not cool for post-IPO tech execs to care about anything but money and cars.”