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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 03/07/2013

What to do at SXSW: The innovations edition


The Frost Bank Tower is lit up during the 2012 SXSW Music Festival in Austin. (Jay Janner - AP)

I’m on my way to SXSW and bringing Ideas@Innovations with me.

Some complain the conference, first held in 1987, has jumped the shark (although that discussion, too, appears to have jumped the shark back in 2011), becoming a large, crowded smorgasbord of ideas, pitches, marketing, concerts, parties, booze and, yes, breakfast tacos. There are more panels than one could possibly attend without the assistance of a time machine, since many convene simultaneously across Austin. And SXSW has become so big there’s even an after-party-style conference of sorts in Las Vegas.

Wonder as we have on this blog as to the fate of the modern ideas conference, I can’t wait to get there.

I’m bringing a camera, laptop, wi-fi hotspot (not attached to a homeless person), water bottle and, in true analog journalist form, notebooks and pens. I’ve registered for the SXSW bikeshare program, and have asked more experienced friends which breakfast taco is the best breakfast taco, learning in one particularly informative e-mail exchange that, no, Taco Town is not a real place. I’ll be attending only the Interactive portion of the conference and have been starring panel discussions, meet-ups and attendees on the internal social network. My calendar is a kaleidoscope of events, interviews and gatherings.

I asked Kay Koplovitz, founder of USA Networks and board chairman of Springboard Enterprises what she was most looking forward to doing. Aside from meeting with the entrepreneurs under Springboard’s charge and connecting with new ones, she said she wanted to see MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s talk. But she can’t. Her event is booked at the same time as Maddow’s. Koplovitz will be presenting on a panel titled “Fighting for Funding as a Female Entrepreneur.”

Koplovitz said that to get the most out of the conference, attendees need a plan and to find the backbone to make tough choices.

“If you’re just there to wander around,” she said during a phone interview, “you’re going to be disappointed. You really want to pick out the things that will be interesting to you.”

In light of Koplovitz’s advice, I went through the schedule and picked out my favorite panels based on their descriptions and speakers:

March 8

OMMA: The Next Big Thing Is Not a Gadget

Tales of US Entrepreneurship Beyond Silicon Valley

The New Nature vs. Nurture: Big Data & Identity

Imitation as Innovation: Lessons from the Shanzhai

Teaching Cheetahs: Disruptive Education in Africa

Aaron Swartz Town Hall*

March 9

Yes to the Mess: Leadership Lessons from Jazz*

Leap Motion Experience

Beyond Mobile: Where No Geek Has Gone Before

Crowd-Sourcing the Space Frontier

Who Owns the Data? Self-Tracking to Health 2.0

Your Brain on Creativity

3D Fashion: Nonstop Innovation in Production & Fit

The Power of Bad Ideas

Elon Musk Keynote*

Al Gore on The Future

Vinod Khosla,Dave McClure, & the CTO of the USA!*

Doctors, Disasters & Smartphone Apps

The Embodied Brain

What’s So Funny About Innovation?*

March 10

Fighting for Funding as a Female Entrepreneur

Playing with Your Own Big Data

Digital Health Changes Everything

How to Build a Social Network in Health

@NASA: The User Experience of a Space Station

I Overthrew My Government... Now What?

Tina Roth Eisenberg Keynote*

Identity+30: The Future of Identity

The New Serendipity?*

March 11

Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot

The New Golden Age of Human Spaceflight

The Rise of the Autodidactic Degree

100 Year Starship: Interstellar Travel & Beyond

Kim Dotcom Speaks! A Skype Panel*

The Art of Making Fun of Yourself

Gun Printing with Defense Distributed*

Hack You: The Human Body Is the Next Interface

The Future of 3D Printing*

Building New Experiences with Glass

March 12

Privacy in the Age of Augmented Reality

Esther Dyson, Release 0.9*

Google[x]: Building a Moonshot Factory*

Matthew Inman Keynote*

Change the Ratio: Conversations with Rachel Sklar

Analogue Anonymous

* - Indicates the events that, if I miss them (which I most likely will), will leave me most disappointed.

It will be a long week and, if the weather predictions are accurate, one punctuated by rain.

Contrary to Koplovitz, Amanda Peyton, co-founder of the creative tech Web site Grand St. is keeping things loose, as she has since she first attended the conference back in 2009.

“I kind of had a little bit of the same plan I did then as I do now,” said Peyton during a phone interview, “which is to have total openness to talking to really random people.”

“That’s what I love doing down there,” continued Peyton, “You always just get the weirdest mix of responses.”

Dan Diamond, a medical doctor and self-described “Resuscitator” is presenting the event “Doctors, Disaster & Smartphone Apps.” When asked what he most wanted to accomplish at the conference he said, “I want to nudge our society back to having heroes again — not heroes like Dennis Rodman, but heroes who are in the midst of these difficult disasters and kicking butt.”

Then there’s leaning back and accepting that the experience is just going to be overwhelming and embracing that as the experience. Jason Best, co-founder and principal of Crowdfund Capital Advisors, said he wants to “get into a place and let [his] mind explode” for at least a moment. Best will be busy aside from that, signing his book “Crowdfund Investing for Dummies” and presenting along with his colleague Sherwood Neiss the panel “The Global Fight to Democratize Access to Capital.”

“Being able to turn people on to this ecosystem would be super awesome,” said Best, of the crowdfund investing world, “there are going to be a ton of smart people packed into this 10-block radius.”

I’ll have my eye out for the emergence of trends, such as whether this South-by is a celebration of objects over apps, whether innovation in health-care apps can get beyond the exercise, sleep and calorie-monitoring variety and how far along we are in tackling the final frontier. And, of course, which breakfast taco is, indeed, the best breakfast taco.

If you will be at SXSW, please let us know. What panels, parties, concerts and screening do you plan on attending (if any)? What’s your game plan for tackling the conference? Follow me at @emikolawole or via @oninnovations.

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

Will we ever ‘like’ the female executive?

The fate of the modern ideas festival

Cory Doctorow on ‘the dirty secret about geeking out’

By  |  08:00 AM ET, 03/07/2013

 
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