SXSW Recap: Harassment Summit Fizzles, Houston Biotech Booms, & More

Austin — Another South By Southwest Interactive has come and gone. This year brought an Obama two-fer with both the president and first lady headlining keynote addresses for both the Interactive and Music programming.

Austin entrepreneur William Hurley had brought President Obama to town and then, three days later, announced he’d sold his fintech startup Honest Dollar to Goldman Sachs.

Other keynotes included former chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain; Under Armour founder Kevin Plank; and Andy Puddicombe, founder of the meditation app Headspace. Around the headliners, thousands floated between hotels, the Austin Convention Center, and downtown bars and restaurants for panel discussions, exhibitions, assorted private receptions and happy hours—and sightings of Grumpy Cat.

Here’s Xconomy’s recap:

—After all the controversial discussion both online and in the national media on the cancellation and reinstatement of panel discussions on online harassment, the festival’s daylong summit on the issues ended up attracting very few audience members. It probably didn’t help that the summit was at a hotel across the river from downtown, where most of SXSW events were held.

At the “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” panel on Saturday, fewer than 50 people were there to listen to panelists talk about the possibilities of designing empathy into software to encourage better behavior. “We already do this in spaces like public housing to create spaces that are friendlier,” said Katherine Cross, a sociologist at the City University of New York.

Caroline Sinders with IBM Watson asked why accessibility states on sites like Twitter have to be either completely open or private, and advocated for states in which an account holder can customize who can see which tweets or could use a post to embed somewhere else on the Internet.

The panel called “Savepoint: A Discussion on the Gaming Community” a few days later attracted a similar small crowd. I was sitting next to fellow journalist Omar Gallaga, a technology writer for the Austin American-Statesman, as we noted the sparse attendance, while throngs of people were at (presumably) more fun SXSW events like virtual reality demonstrations. Gallaga tweeted: “I think some of the people who should have been at #sxsw #onlineharassment Summit were stuck in VR instead.”

Credit: Lindsay Denneault

Credit: Lindsay Denneault

—The Houston contingent, especially those in medtech innovation, had their biggest showing in the last three years I’ve attended SXSW for Xconomy. Kicking things off was a #hackmed happy hour Saturday hosted by The Texas Medical Center and JLabs that drew more than 100 people. This reflects the growing momentum in the Houston startup scene—especially in the biotech and medtech spaces, with the TMCx accelerator and JLabs‘ new cohort of startups.

—One Houston medtech startup in particular, Noninvasix, which makes a noninvasive monitor to measure a baby’s brain oxygenation levels, placed second in the Impact Pediatric Health contest, which was judged by representatives from major children’s hospitals. “They grilled me pretty hard—the emcee even commented that we should win an award for answering the most questions—so they must have been pleased with my responses,” Graham Randall, Noninvasix’s CEO, told me.

Credit: Impact Pediatric Health

Credit: Impact Pediatric Health

Steve Case, ex-AOL CEO and founder of Revolution Ventures, emceed along with Jordan Shlain, founder of HealthLoop. (Sesame Street Ventures, one of the contest judges, brought along Grover to make a special appearance.)

—-Two Austin startups took home awards in the South By Southwest Interactive Innovation awards. Kasita builds moveable housing units aimed at millennials, students, and other populations. It took the “smart cities” award. Peeple makes a sort of “smart peephole,” a smart camera that attaches to a door’s peephole that through WiFi alerts homeowners of any outside presence. It won the “privacy and security award.”

Credit: Shelley Risk, Clover Health

Credit: Shelley Risk, Clover Health

—How can data analytics be combined with empathy to deliver better health care? That was the theme of a panel discussion I moderated on Sunday. One of the panelists, Kris Gale, co-founder and CTO of Clover Health, spoke about how his company seeks to analyze and compile what is still very fragmented data to create profiles that enable caregivers to provide more personalized care. From his perspective as a physician-entrepreneur, Thomas Lee, founder and CEO of One Medical Group, pointed to flaws in the current payment architecture in healthcare. “What data elements do we need to make this better?”

Esther Dyson, founder of HICCup, took the 30,000-foot view. She said it’s more important to invest in health, rather than care. Investing in healthier communities is expensive, she acknowledged, but the long-term benefits for society are not in doubt. “Why can’t we create a market for wellness like we have for mortgages?” she asked.

—My Xconomy colleague David Holley tackled the subject of tech transfer at universities at a panel hosted by the University of Texas at Austin. Notable in the discussion were suggestions for entrepreneurs trying to navigate the university bureaucracy, and tips on how startup founders can find innovation advocates at institutions. The panelists included David Lowe, CEO of Aeglea Biotherapeutics in Austin, SV Sreenivasan, a UT mechanical engineering professor who founded Molecular Imprints, and Hope Shimabuku, who heads the Texas office for the US Patent and Trademark Office.

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