The SxSW conferences, festivals and exhibitions take place every March for one week within four square blocks in downtown Austin, TX. It’s every bit as overwhelming, interesting, and inspiring as its website. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to explore all the events, new people, and experiences. (Sound like any other conference you might have been to recently?)
I attended as a SxSW mentor speaker along with my MyHealthTeams co-founder, who was on a panel. We both received Platinum badge access to anything – from the Interactive Tracks (health, branding, VR) to Entertainment (think live performances, a panel with HBO’s cast of Game of Thrones or IamMoShow, the cat rapper). While the pass seemed like a golden ticket, the reality is that there was a line for EVERYTHING, and the best strategy to actually get into a session or performance was to wait on line 45 minutes in advance of the session.
Joe Biden’s exclusive Cancer Moonshot session was a complicated affair to attend. One had to wait on line for a wristband at 8:30 am, then show up 45 minutes in advance of the actual talk at 3:30 pm later that afternoon. My sense was that if I caught two sessions in a day, that was success.
Women Show Up
Those of us in the digital health trenches know that the health track is SxSW’s newest and fastest growing track. There were 294 speakers/leaders within the health track alone – and 47 percent of them were women. A solid representation of to be sure, but more of those women hosted book readings, mentor sessions, and meet-ups instead of headlining talks. What does that say about us women or the event organizers? I’m still not sure. It did get me to thinking … Do we author more books in this space? Are we more willing to meet up and network? More willing to mentor others? I am aware that the SxSW organizers strive for diversity in the speaker representation.
My Personal Highlights
- Spotting comedic actors Bret Gilman and Gary Cole. Here are other celebrities that were at SxSW.
- Sitting a table away from celebrity chef Marcus Samulssen at La Condesa.
- Discussing with a CEO how she can create a women’s founder ecosystem in Victoria, Australia.
- Walking the exhibition floor and trying things out. This guy’s smirk was priceless.
- This panel, of course.
The themes and guiding principles that echoed in the halls of the Austin Convention Center during SxSW’s interactive panels (both within and outside of the Health track):
- Transparency is critical in communicating with your audience.
- The full context of the user/consumer’s life should contribute to innovation.
- Personal privacy is being redefined by people’s desire to share.
The #HealthITChicks Perspective
I spoke with three women I know in the digital health space who also participated in the conference, and asked them to weigh in on their favorite parts.
What was the best question asked at your panel?
Mary Liz McCurdy, head of health and fitness apps for Google Play: When it comes to health, we must live in an evidence-based world. We also live in a world with Twitter. How can good science best inform the person?
Amy Bucher, behavior change design, Mad Pow: One attendee asked how can we reconcile the idea of autonomy support in behavior change with public health mandates such as vaccines.
Carla Borsoi, vp of marketing at Nima: I had a mentor session, so it’s hard to say – it was super personal about this person’s career.
What stood out to you most in the area of digital health at SxSW?
Mary: Consumerization of healthcare. Businesses are going direct-to-consumer, empowering individuals to manage their own health with tools like home DNA kits.
Amy: Maybe I was paying extra attention because of the topic of my own talk, but I was surprised and pleased to see how many panels touched on ethical concerns when you’re creating digital health interventions.
Carla: [The intersection of food and health.] I just posted about this.
Any funny thing you overheard or saw?
Mary: Today, we have 1.5 less close friends than we did before the rise of mobile (in the past 10 years). This is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day!! Give your old friend a call! This came up in my panel discussion shared by Blue Zones founder Nick Buettner.
Amy: Bob Burns’ talk on the TSA social media accounts was very funny thanks to his dry wit and the unbelievable pictures he’s curated from airport security checkpoints.
Carla: A woman in drag makeup lip syncing to [a song about female anatomy] at 20×2 on Friday night.
What panel were you glad you caught?
Mary: How AI/Machine Learning Will Change the Way We Eat.
Amy: I really enjoyed Personalized Medicine: Trends, Challenges & Future with Mary Ann Roser, Julia Cheek, Rachel Hauritz, and Mildred Cho. The ethical angle was intriguing.
Carla: Body Positivity – hilarious and on point.
What health-related panel do you wish you caught?
Mary: Personalized Medicine, Trends, Challenges & Futures.
Amy: I wanted to attend Preventing a Diabetes Avalanche but had a conflict.
Carla: The microbiome and CRISPR ones! I was covering other things at the time and couldn’t go.
Keeping Up with the Conference Circuit
As I fully digest SxSW this year, I’m gearing up for my panel at Health Datapalooza in DC next month. I look forward to meeting up with any #healthITchicks there. In the meantime, see you at the next tweet chat!