When attending the internationally known and highly regarded South by Southwest (SXSW) festivals in Austin, Texas, ask questions and say yes. That’s the advice that three Syracuse University School of Information Studies students shared with approximately 60 campus and community members on March 26.

Dean Elizabeth D. Liddy also announced a contest for students to win their way to next year’s SXSW. More details will follow about the contest in fall 2010.

Shay Colson G’10, Andrew Farah G’11, and Kate Holloway G’11, students enrolled in the M.S. in Information Management program, traveled to the five-day SXSW Interactive Festival for spring break and experienced as much as they could during the mind-opening trip.

“Everyone is your peer at South by,” Colson said. “Everyone is wearing jeans and a T-shirt. He might the head of a company you use every day, but at SXSW he’s just another attendee. There are no barriers here. People want to interact. That’s why they fly in from all around the world at the same place, at the same time. This is your chance to talk to these people as a peer.”

For example, Colson, Farah, and Holloway met and took a photograph with billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks and is chairman of HDNet, a high-definition TV Cable network.

“The world should be like this,” Farah said. “Free wi-fi, public computers, cool tech like this, and everyone is approachable. It’s this ideal techie world—like a bubble—where everybody knows what you’re talking about and everybody wants to be part of the party.”

Holloway, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from Newhouse School of Public Communications, said she participated in a lot of conversations about media and how technologies are shaping the future. “I was really excited to see spot.us and Jeff Jarvis [journalist who wrote the book, What Would Google Do],” she said. “I got to talk with these people.”

Jarvis stood up in one of the approximately 800 panels during the five-day event to challenge people to help the field of journalism, according to CNY entrepreneur Sean Branagan, who also attended SXSW 2010. “He actually stood up and said, ‘Hi. I’m from the world of journalism, and we have no innovation. What do we do?’” Branagan said.

Branagan, owner and founder of Communigration Inc., said he went to SXSW to maintain his “street credibility” among his peers and to test the waters for his recently launched start-up, Digital Vertical Marketing. “I’ve got a new business in search and social media,” he said. “I wanted to both confirm some of our assumptions as well as modify those assumptions. Both of those things happened. Of course, I also wanted to go just to get the ‘juice.’”

The three students also met Jason Fried, owner of 37signals that developed such collaborative software as Basecamp, and they were impressed to learn that his company has 3 million customers and only 16 employees worldwide.

“It was great hearing from people who are doing it big,” Colson said. “This is a pretty incredible event.”

The students ended their presentation by posing the question to attendees: How do we foster a similarly innovative and open environment here?

Professor Michael D’Eredita suggested that the conversation continue at future events, including the April 28 Emerging Talk at the Syracuse Technology Garden. That event is bringing together student start-ups from across Central New York with other entrepreneurs and professionals to discuss innovation and creating new businesses in the region.