SXSWi Recap: From Startups to Genetics, SXSWi has it all

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I am a lover of all things Austin, Texas. While not an Austin native (really…who is?), I got here as soon as I was accepted to UT (transplant from Dallas). That said, in college, I knew about SXSW and loved it for the free music that filled every venue in our city each spring, but that’s where I thought it ended. It wasn’t until years later that I learned about the Interactive component and what a crucial part of the full SXSW lineup it is.

This was my 2nd year attending SXSW Interactive, and I will say, it did not disappoint! Here are a few of the top sessions I saw:

Top 10 Startups in Austin

Capital Factory hosted one of the very first sessions I went to – the top 10 startups in Austin (from Capital Factory’s perspective). There were representatives from the 10 companies and each was given the opportunity to give a quick presentation/overview of their company vision, plan, and success story thus far.

The company I was most interested in was Weeva. I had never heard of them, but their tagline, “Tell it together”, says it all. Weeva is a place for families and friends to tell the stories that matter most to them and that they don’t want to forget. It’s a collaboration tool where everyone who is invited (so nothing is public) can share stories and have other family and friends add their voice and memories to those same stories. When you feel as though your stories are complete, Weeva “weaves” all of the voices and versions of the same stories together and creates a beautiful memory book that makes it possible to pass down personal memories and stories for generations.

When the presentation began, I’ll be honest –I wasn’t overly impressed. I thought it was another social media app, and I almost dismissed it. It wasn’t until the book – the outcome of everyone’s investment – was presented that I became a believer. How awesome to have a story documented from multiple family members’ perspectives in a beautiful memory book! It struck a chord with me, and you can bet I will be a customer in the very near future!

Wolfram|Alpha – Injecting Computation Everywhere

I got to this one a little late but was intrigued by what I did get to see. Stephen Wolfram was speaking about Mathematica, the computable knowledge of Wolfram|Alpha, and the soon to be universally accessible and computable model of the world by the Wolfram Language and Engine.

I was very impressed with Mr. Wolfram, and he definitely hosted an interesting session with some thoughtful insight on what the (not too distant) future could potentially hold. We’re getting to the point with technology where computers/devices can make predictions on what you might do (based on the enormous amount of available data), not just tell you what your options are or what you’ve done before (as is available today). Does this mean we’re going to be ‘controlled’ by computers? Are we becoming less intelligent because our devices are ‘thinking’ for us? These are only a couple of the great questions we were left with.

23andMe – The Future of Genetics in Our Everyday Lives

23andMe is a personal genetics company that allows individuals to get their DNA analyzed for $99. You may have heard about the controversy late last year when the FDA wrote a ‘not-so-nice’ letter to the company, telling them they were going against Federal Regulations. As a result, they had to stop providing health-related information, but customers can still get their DNA analyzed to learn about their ancestry.

23andMe was founded on the idea that everyone should be able to learn about and explore their own DNA. Anne Wojcicki, one of the company’s co-founders, spoke about the future of genetics in our everyday lives and what we can do to positively impact it.

One of the most important points Anne made was regarding our health system’s approach to wellness and sickness. Doctors (and large pharmaceuticals) make significantly more money when we’re sick than when we’re well, so our healthcare system is in turn, built around a reactionary mentality (fix what’s broken or sick) instead of a proactive, wellness-supporting view. Doctors are paid less to do prevention and wellness activities than they are for taking care of sick patients, so which do you think they’re more motivated to do?

All in all, SXSWi was absolutely awesome – tons of great people, interesting sessions and of course, awesome parties. As always, already looking forward to next year’s event!

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