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Thursday, Mar 15, 2012
If Silicon Valley is to be “the new promised land” for African Americans it will be because these tech entrepreneurs continue to build on their success and because venture capitalists understand the importance of having all the brilliant ideas available (regardless of from where they come) represented in the marketplace.

A year ago there was not a lot of talk about African Americans tech entrepreneurs in mainstream media. But then last year CNN aired its latest episode of its ‘Black in America’ Series entitled: “Black in America: The New Promised Land – Silicon Valley.” In it, host Soledad O’Brien, explored the reasons why only 1% of tech entrepreneurs are African Americans. That episode ignited questions who the leading African American tech entrepreneurs are and why aren’t their more of them. At this year’s SXSW Interactive, African American tech entrepreneur, and Soledad O’Brien herself, were at the forefront of extending the conversation of how to support the Black start-ups that exist and how to ensure the number of Black start-ups continue to grow.

It was fitting that CNN jump started the conversation at this year’s SXSW Interactive by hosting a panel aptly titled,  “CNN Black in America/Silicon Valley: Aftermath.” In the television episode O’Brien interviewed Silicon Valley insiders including Michael Arrington of TechCrunch, and Ron Conway an early investor in both Twitter and Paypal. While Arrington flatly asserted that Silicon Valley is a “white and Asian world”, O’Brien also interviewed Navarrow Wright, the Chief Technology Officer of Interactive One and Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Corporation and partner in the investor fund Kapor Capital, who both were mentors to Silicon Valley’s first African American-founded accelerator program, NewME Accelerator. The SXSWi panel, which included O’Brien and three of the entrepreneurs featured on the show, Hank Williams, Hajj Flemings and Wayne Sutton, focused on how the show impacted the visibility of Black tech entrepreneurs and how impacted the entrepreneurs outlook on their careers. The panel discussion was full of good and honest dialog about why African Americans do not comprise a larger percentage of tech entrepreneurs. Williams elaborated by explaining, “It’s absolutely necessary that people are allowed to fail because it’s a part of the process, but in the Black community we don’t have the economic flexibility to absorb failure. We need to temper that with it being “okay to fail”. Flemings and Sutton agreed that the CNN special helped attract the attention and resources needed to develop pipelines for younger generations of African American aspiring tech entrepreneurs.

Black in Technology Committee and Inaugural Awardees

Black in Technology Committee and Inaugural Awardees

In addition to formalized panels that discussed the impact of Black tech start-ups, there was a reception and awards ceremony that represented established leaders and advocates in the field. Thursday evening, the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce hosted their welcome reception. The Blacks in Technology group hosted a reception and awards ceremony at the George Washington Carver Center in the city. Inaugural award recipients included: Tristan Walker of CNN, Baratunde Thurston author of How to Be Black, Wayne Sutton co-founder of GoKit, and Marcia Wade Talbert Tech Editor at Black Enterprise Magazine.

The momentum of interest in Blacks tech entrepreneurs garnered from the CNN special galvanized African American SXSW attendees to further their efforts to promote their individual projects while continuing to build systems that supported the efforts of minorities in technology fields. The panel, “Race: Know When to Hold and When to Fold It”, directly confronted the dual identity of being a minority and being a member of the tech world. While the group Black Founders, which is an networking organization in Silicon Valley held a panel called, “Pay-It-Forward: Building Successful Startups”. Their session not only dealt with challenges that they face in Silicon Valley, but highlighted the solutions of they had discovered along the way.

In a panel called, “Social Media for Minority Mindshare”, Ron Harris co-founder of the music submission website, Blazetrak, discussed how his company had successful found a revenue-generating business model. Not only did discussion about African Americans in technology focus on the entrepreneurial side, but Kim “Dr. Goddess” Ellis presented a talk, called“The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter”, which focused the disproportionate African American presence on twitter serves as an important vehicle for identity formation and affects broader popular culture. Lastly, the panel “Africa, Tech, and Women: The New Faces of Development” discussed how the rapidly growing mobile market is shifting how Africans access and produce media content and creating a growing number of African women tech enthusiasts.

If Silicon Valley is to be “the new promised land” for African Americans it will be because these tech entrepreneurs continue to build on their success and because venture capitalists understand the importance of having all the brilliant ideas available (regardless of from where they come) represented in the marketplace. As SXSW Interactive draws to a close, the feeling among many African American attendees is optimistic. That’s with good reason; the conversation about how to create a pipeline of African American tech entrepreneurs that goes from public school to successful business owners has started and people are determined to see it through to the end.

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Wednesday, Mar 14, 2012
The rains subsided. The sun came out. Great movies kept playing inside, so who cares about the weather?

The third day of Austin’s 26th annual SXSW Film Festival has come and gone, and I am fortunate to continue to see a good, nay, great movie every 24 hours. Friday featured the long-awaited and highly successful premiere of The Cabin in the Woods. Saturday floored the packed house of the Paramount with the unnerving Killer Joe. Sunday had three strong contenders for the “Film Champion of the Day” trophy on my docket—The Hunter with Willem Dafoe; The Do-Deca-Pentathlon from the Duplass brothers; and Nature Calls starring Patton Oswalt.

First up was the Tasmania-based drama The Hunter. Shot entirely on the Australian island, director Daniel Nettheim’s gripping film stars Willem Dafoe as Martin David, a hunter-for-hire out to catch the elusive and rare Tasmanian tiger. The film plays out much like lone assassin films of the past—Dafoe has no family, no past, and no friends of note. He’s sent from place to place to do a job and that’s all he does.

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Wednesday, Mar 14, 2012
A crash course in neuroscience at SXSW.

Neuroscience is the it-girl right now. A horde of scientists is starting to unpack the funny chemical underpinnings of why we do what we do.  And a horde of marketers, pop sociologists, armchair psychologists, and even game-makers are in hot pursuit.

These brain-junkies are out in force at SXSW Interactive; after all, what’s the deep down root of all human interactions? Panels like “How Brain Science Turns Browsers into Buyers” and “Hack Your Brain for Peak Performance” translate neuroscience into action.

One speaker is straight to the source. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor University, is a key player in bringing hard science to the masses. He’s a Guggenheim Fellow who’s written best-selling books like the recent New York Times bestseller Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, and is running the media circuit to bring what he learns in the lab to the masses.

He gets busy by exploring phenomena like synesthesia and what happens when part of a person’s brain goes missing to reflect on how normal folks work—and he says what we think of as free will is really a set of brain chemicals functioning deep beyond our knowledge and control.

So how do you actually use all that information in the real world? How does knowing more about what underlies our brain chemistry help us actually live a better life? That’s where the doers and the makers come in.

Jane McGonigal is a gamer. She defies all stereotypes of gamers—female, adult, fun, and most of all, extremely engaged in the real life world. She’s collected a pile of awards and recognition for her work in advocating gaming as a way to improve the world.

She’s been tracking how brains work to more deeply understand how gaming can make a positive impact. From her research—both intensely in gaming and in learning about brains—she’s built the concept of getting SuperBetter into an online game to help people in recovery or rehabilitation create better outcomes.

Our brains love feeling rewarded, and will respond in kind with the flood of good feelings that come out of a dopamine rush. If games reward actions that are good for us, then we can better develop behaviors that will help us in the long run. SuperBetter does just that, turning recovery from an injury, or any health or personal goal, into a game with quests, goals and power boosts. Looks like we have free will after all.

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Wednesday, Mar 14, 2012
by Faith Korpi
Hunky Dory is not just an ode to classic rock and the days of old, but also to American high school movies. Knowing this gave me an entirely different lens.

Do you realize that the UK doesn’t make high school movies? I hadn’t until director Marc Evans pointed this out and identified it as his reason for making Hunky Dory, which had its North American premiere here at SXSW. It’s the summer of 1976 at a Welsh comprehensive school, and drama teacher Vivienne (Minnie Driver) attempts to fight the general apathy of her students by putting on a play that “both William Shakespeare and David Bowie would be proud of”. That is, a rock opera version of The Tempest.

Hunky Dory is not just an ode to classic rock and the days of old, but also to American high school movies. Knowing this gave me an entirely different lens. (You can’t criticize something for being “just another high school movie” when that is precisely what it sets out to be.) It is an homage to American teen movies like JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is an homage to Spielberg.

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Tuesday, Mar 13, 2012
Killer Joe and... well, nothing else mattered.

If Day 1 was dominated by rain (damn weather) and hilarious horror (thank you Cabin in the Woods), then Day 2 of SXSW Film 2012 was the day of Killer Joe. Directed by fear master William Friedkin, Killer Joe actually shares a few things in common with Joss Whedon’s SXSW premiere from the night prior. They both play with elements of terror. They both infuse their thrillers with a twisted number of laughs. And they are both freaking great.

That being said, they’re also both made for very specific audiences. Mom, I know you’re reading this and I know you enjoy all kinds of films, but please, PLEASE don’t see either of these. You and your distaste for brutal, realistic violence depicted in perverse ways will not have fun. What a weirdo, am I right?

Luckily for Whedon, Friedkin & co., my mother wasn’t at SXSW. I doubt anyone like my mother is at SXSW, and if they are, these two films would not make their schedule.

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