SXSW 2014: Females in Tech, Big Data, and…Kevin Bacon?

It’s hard to miss the vibe of optimism at SXSW Interactive. The annual Austin, Texas festival brings together thousands of technologists, visionaries, founders, and business people to discuss emerging and creative technologies. From the keynotes to the sessions to the sponsored parties, it felt like conversations and ideas were exchanged at the pace and volume of the Internet.

I was a first-time attendee at SXSW Interactive 2014 and represented Simply Hired in one-on-one mentoring sessions for professionals who are seeking jobs or starting companies. It was a rewarding experience for me to share guidance and learn which initiatives and goals are important to others .

Two entrepreneurs who are innovating in the employment market particularly impressed me: Luciana Caletti, CEO of Love Mondays, which is a website for job seekers in Brazil, and Cara Willis, director of communities for Opportunity Nation, which is a nonprofit that aims to expand economic opportunities for Americans.  Check out these companies. They’re doing great things.


While there were plenty of notable speakers and presentations at this year’s SXSW, the concurrent scheduling of sessions and events made it impossible for me to experience it all. But like any good attendee, I absorbed as much of SXSW as possible, and I observed the following themes:

1. The Rise of the Female CEO


It’s a well-known fact that men outnumber women in leadership positions in the tech industry. But various reports indicate the gap is narrowing, and SWSX was a real-world example of this. Female speakers were equally represented in the sessions I attended, and at least half of the founder pitches I watched were women. As a woman in tech, I was encouraged to witness these instances of the closing gender gap. Even more importantly, witnessing the rise of the female CEO seemed like a natural evolution rather than a forced effort. Yes, we need more women in tech and leadership roles. Like anything, this progress must be fueled by earned efforts.

2. Personalized Data is Ready For Us…But Are We Ready for Personalized Data?

Big Data is showing up in more places thanks to amazing advances that continue to emerge through genome mapping, health monitors, wearable fitness devices and more.

While everyone agrees Big Data presents a myriad of opportunities for businesses, the issue of personal privacy was a major concern. Speakers in several sessions indicated that consumers are not comfortable with their data being tracked (especially by the government), yet they want more personalized advertisements and offers from companies. It remains to be seen how this tension will play out, but I think opt-out options, accurate personalization that adds value and transparency from businesses will assuage consumer privacy concerns over time.

To learn more about the Big Data discussions at SXSW, I recommend the following reading:

3. The Sharing Economy Takes P2P to the Enterprise


The sharing economy has evolved from P2P (peer-to-peer) sharing of content through social networks to sharing personal property in a commercial context.   We’ve seen successful businesses modeled after this new sharing economy in the form of home-renting company Airbnb and on-demand driver company Lyft. One emerging company leveraging P2P sharing is LiquidSpace, which helps businesses offer flexible locations as an employee recruiting and retention strategy. LiquidSpace also enables companies to rent shared space rather than buying or renting properties.

The collaborative economy is still a nascent movement, but if SXSW is a bellwether for important tech trends, expect an increase in startups looking to capitalize on P2P sharing.

On Kevin Bacon and Serendipity

What would SXSW be without celebrities? I was especially delighted to hear a panel discussion with Kevin Bacon and entrepreneur Brian Turtle, who invented the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” which is based on the theory of six degrees of separation.

Bacon said at first he was “horrified” by the concept, which he thought was a “giant joke” at his expense. Eventually the actor embraced the concept as an opportunity to create good based on the serendipitous discovery of connections. After his change of heart, Bacon launched SixDegrees, a nonprofit organization that connects grassroots charities and celebrities to raise money for good causes. To date, the organization has raised more than $5 million dollars.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as a first-time SXSW attendee. Now I understand what people mean when they say the event is something to be experienced. While many articles and live feeds are available for those who can’t attend, the live experience—the energy, the frenetic exchange of ideas, the inspiring talks—is something everyone should experience at least once.

 

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