April 12, 2017

SXSW 2017: Feedback by Thibaut Schlaeppi, Head of Startup Relations and Investments at BNP Paribas Cardif

You attended the 2017 edition of SXSW, could you please explain the principle of this conference?

The principle of the conference is to bring together a group of people on the three topics of film, music and the interactive world (innovation, start-ups, media, etc.). It is unique for a conference to focus on these three themes combined with a profile of participants for whom design and start-up culture is key.

SXSW is structured around conferences hosting speakers chosen by the community. The result is a selection of forward-looking and avant-garde conferences.There is also a live pitch contest event (SXSW Accelerator) for start-ups and ‘venues’, places hired by companies where the communication of their brand is coordinated with event participants.

Each year, the political and civic component of the conference also plays a significant role. Many of the speakers take a stance on ecological issues with ecology always an important element at the conference. They give their opinions on changes to our lifestyles and working methods, the transformation of our towns and cities and issues surrounding data confidentiality. Data security is a subject taken very seriously. SXSW was held just a few days after the Vault 7 revelations by WikiLeaks; the SXSW community regards Europe as a pioneer in public strategy on data.

What stood out for you most in this year’s conference?

This year, several conferences talked about space and specifically the conquest of Mars. American astronaut Buzz Aldrin said something that stuck in people’s minds, “people explore or they expire”. This encapsulates the very spirit of SXSW. Humanity needs challenges, it’s what helps us to move forward and innovate.

Another significant topic this year is the progress made in design, notably computational design (the design of products or processes using digital means). I also noticed that inclusion (inclusive design - or making products/services for as many people as possible) are now central to designers’ thought processes. They are very aware of the level of responsibility they bear in their profession.Chatbots and touchpoints using conversational metrics (especially conversational AI) were central to the debate, talking about their strengths and how to use them to maximise effectiveness, but also about their weaknesses. One speaker who spoke about the “quantified mind” (technologies which now practically enable us to anticipate what we would like), reminded of the importance of always maintaining user choice and not shutting users into their comfort zone! Discovery by design in some way.

It also appears that we are witnessing the end of the “always online” dogma. Our experience with technology has shown that, in reality, we frequently find ourselves in offline areas. It would be better to design offline experiences that network connection can enhance, than to create online experiences often used in downgraded mode. This is indeed what one speaker called for, “from mobile first to offline first”.Fintech and insurtech are now part of the primary topics discussed at the conference, and this is new. Among questions on the societal contribution of the blockchain and conferences on bank/fintech relations, SXSW now also looks at changes to our industry, something that has long taken the backseat and that our colleagues from Atelier US made sure to highlight: http://www.atelier.net/trends/articles/sxsw-partenariat-fintech-banques-solution-debancarisation-de-amerique_445362

Why is it of interest for start-ups and companies to attend the SXSW conference?

Each year, delegations attend SXSW to showcase their innovation and are usually supported by nations. The challenge for countries is big. They need to show they can rival international competition and that they are innovative. The teams at Business France bring the French delegation to the conference and have a big stand each year showcasing twenty or so start-ups.

A few words to sum up?

It is the cultural intermingling and exchange at SXSW that helps to create inspiration, the mix of genres to encourage new ideas. “Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions” to quote Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT, a quote used by the famous American designer John Maeda at a conference on Design in Tech. It summarises the spirit of SXSW well. It is also what inspires us daily at BNP Paribas Cardif for our strategy on open innovation.