The SXSW weekend highlights

SXSW is the one tech conference that Team Equator looks forward to all year. Creative Director James Jefferson shares his highlights at this year’s conference...

SXSW is the one tech conference that Team Equator looks forward to all year. Creative Director James Jefferson shares his highlights at this year’s conference...

The Bacon Number

I wasn't aware of the concept of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon until I was sitting in a big room in the Austin Convention Centre looking at Kevin Bacon himself.

6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in case you're as out of touch as I am, is an idea that started as a joke between some film buff college kids over 20 years ago. While watching a couple of back-to-back Bacon classics, they started wondering if you could link any actor to Kevin Bacon in less than six steps. The idea became a game, the game in turn became a meme and in turn Kevin Bacon himself got involved.

He and Jeff Turtle (one of the now grown up college kids and inventor of the game) met on The Daily Show. Bacon, nearly didn't go because he thought they were making fun of him. When he realised they weren't, he got behind the whole idea and has since turned 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon into a really successful charity concept. By connecting and helping to promote small charitable organisations, Bacon has raised over $5m. Not bad for an idea that started as a college drinking game.

I'm proud to say that, having been to the Kevin Bacon talk, my Bacon Number is now one.

Find out more about the Six Degrees charity here: http://www.sixdegrees.org/

The FIRST thing

I had also never heard of Dean Kamen before this weekend, but I probably should have. He appears to be one of America's most famous and successful innovators. His inventions include the Segway and many spin-offs; one being an amazing wheel chair that can balance on two wheels and climbs stairs. He's been central to a major DARPA funded programme to develop robotic artificial limbs that give sensory feedback to the wearer enabling them to not 'crush a grape', unlike the Crackerjack presenter from the 80s.

But the biggest deal, as if those things weren't big enough, is that he has been working for 20 years on a programme to get school kids inspired and involved in science and technology.

The FIRST programme started out when he realised it might be possible to take what kids love about sport and use it to take science and technology out of the classroom.

So FIRST is a sort of robot Olympiad. Kids start by building small robots to compete in after-school clubs. As in many sports, the most successful graduate to compete in bigger leagues - eventually making it to the national play-offs.

This programme has been incredibly successful, now involving hundreds of thousands of kids across 66 cities with 120,000 mentors and $18m in scholarships.

Dean has been incredibly smart at designing this event to resonate with boys and girls of all backgrounds. More recently he has involved celebrity advocates Will.I.am and Morgan Freeman to build the reach and credibility of the programme

He brilliantly described how the event was successful because it's about putting knowledge into practice:

"Education must not be a spectator sport. Kids aren't interested in a hammer or a spanner if they don't get to use them. You don't teach them the rules of football without letting them play."

Learn more about the wonderful FIRST program here: http://www.usfirst.org/

23 and me

Anne Wojcicki is CEO of 23andme, the first publicly available gene sequencing service. Simply by sending them your spit you get access to an online analysis of your genetic make-up, including your origins, inherited conditions and potential disease risks.

This is an incredibly empowering service, especially in the states, where it has the potential to start a genuine shift of healthcare from treatment to prevention.

They have already taken flack from the NDA. It has been ruled that, for the moment, they are not able to give medical advice based on your DNA. This may be due to it not being 100% accurate yet, but it may also be because it’s in the NDA's interest to maintain the $2.7 trillion healthcare expenses industry. Not for me to say.

Read more about 23andme here: https://www.23andme.com/

The odd couple - Nas and Ben Horowitz

One of the trends at this year's SXSW was the celebrity friend. I guess having a famous face by your side makes people listen to you - and of course turn up in the first place.

So this session was fronted by Nas - a quite well-known hip hopster - and Ben Horowitz who isn't all that well known. Nas was there because he's Ben's friend. Ben was there to promote his book 'The Hard Thing about Hard Things'. This is clearly a recipe for a rubbish session. And it would have been had Ben not been so brilliantly insightful and honest. He didn't really need Nas there.

Ben Horowitz, it turned out, has recently moved from being one of the US's top Tech VCs with around $3bn under management to be a mentor to tech CEOs including the likes of Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg.

If you're interested in becoming a better CEO, or at least to hear that everyone else in that position feels like they're as bad at it as you do, you should buy his book.

My favourite story from the talk was about Ben's unusual hero, a man called Toussaint. Toussaint was a Haitian slave in the early 18th century and the only man to ever lead a successful slave revolt. He was so famed for his ability to avoid capture or defeat, even when success seemed impossible, that the French nicknamed him L'Ouverture – ‘The Opening’.

Toussaint L'Ouverture is Ben's hero because there are many occasions as a CEO when there appears to be no way out. Focussing just on your best next move rather than juggling all the issues is for Ben Horowitz, one of the key secrets of success. That and simply not giving up. Ever.

Horowitz’s The Hard Thing about Hard Things will be published in the UK on 24 April 2014, and is available to pre-order on Amazon.