SXSW 2015 Recap: Winners and One Loser
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Entrepreneur was on the ground for SXSW. Check back this week as we recap the festival, giving context to the best insights and trends from thought leaders and innovators.
SXSW has passed and we’ve had a little time to reflect on what we saw and what it meant. Here’s what our reporting team felt got an edge at the festival – and who has some work to do.
Winner: Biotech and healthcare
At a conference where tech and social networking apps get most of the attention, it was refreshing to see health care and biotech grab their place in the spotlight. Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Gurley of Benchmark devoted large portions of their high-profile session to the challenges and opportunities created by the current, messy state of our healthcare system. In her keynote, Martine Rothblatt discussed topics such as advancements in organ transplantation and how technology can help end problems like infertility. Speakers such as Ethan Perlstein, a researcher studying orphan diseases, and Adam Gazzley, a cognitive neuroscientist who studies video game’s effect on the brain, were encouraged that instead of being regulated to venues “at the fringes of festival,” biotech panels were incorporated into the mainstream action. “I do think there is starting to be more interest in the health side of things. When I first presented here four years ago I didn’t see much at all,” says Gazzley. Perhaps most telling: For the first time, the festival added a Health and MedTech Expo featuring more than 60 exhibits from companies pushing the limits of healthcare technology.”
Winner: Cities, regions and countries
We expect Steve Case to talk about investing in local economies, especially as his panel dovetailed with his new Rise of the Rest platform celebrating regional innovation. But the power of cities, states and regions took center stage at places that would otherwise serve as gadget geekout sessions, like during a connected cars showcase and even the annual tradeshow. Such talks move us past the awe-factor and into how new solutions would really need to walk and talk for mass adoption. They also start us thinking differently about what's needed for change, like how new solutions might sidestep government infrastructure costs, transforming cities quickly and redefining where our innovation hubs are located. Any large-scale change needs large-scale cooperation between entrepreneurs and governments and understanding the stakes is a much-needed first start.
Twitter cut the buzzy social livestreaming app from its social graph on the first day of the festival, announcing its acquisition of a new rival, Periscope. But blocking the app at the start of an event packed with journalists hungry for a quirky innovation story gave Meerkat an incredible break. The app cut through the festival’s noise getting interviews from CNN and mentions from Jimmy Fallon. As word of the tool spread, Film and Music badge holders experimented with it while waiting in SXSW's interminable lines. And while some complained the app had its bugs, others claimed it did the seemingly impossible: restored faith that SXSW was still a place for breakout ideas. Since the festival, the app received $14 million in funding, even as critics point out its download rate never quite matched its hype. The upstart app will still need to battle for survival but it remains a darling of SXSW 2015.
Winner: The AeroMobil Flying Car
A flying car by 2017 sounds like fantasy yet AeroMobil's confident panel and soberminded thoughts about how the world could be changed by this type of product sparked some important discussion. Unveiling a vehicle that is at home on the highways as it is in the sky is impressive, but so is introducing concepts such as "grass runways" outside of cities and suggesting flight as an alternative to deforestation. Chats like these moved beyond gimmickry to problem-solving and possibility.
Loser: The consumer
High-profile marketing tricks won headlines this year including a no-robot protest (that really promoted a dating app) and a fake Tinder profile that really masqueraded as a movie ad. The tricks can be ineffective and actually overshadow the products they’re trying to highlight. At a festival like SXSW, where people come to engage in wow-factor, one-of-a-kind spectacle, shenanigans seem disposable, lose a real long-term opportunity and feel wearing on the audience.