PopTech Blog

PopTech goes to Austin #SXSW

We came, we saw, we spent time with PopTech friends…and we made a bunch of new ones. SXSW – you treated us well. We just got back from Austin and our minds are buzzing with everything we saw and heard. And now, a recap of some of what we did:

We touched down in Austin on Friday afternoon and hit the ground running. Divide and conquer proved to be the key tactic for me, PopTech president Leetha Filderman and our board chair, Paul Schaeffer. We made it to the convention center just in time to see Erik Hersman and Reg Orton’s panel about the BRCK and designing from the rest of the world. We refueled with some brisket tacos and then set out to check out the panel, “The Next Steve Jobs May be from Africa” featuring Jessica Colaço from the iHub team. We swung by a conversation with Jean Case of the Case Foundation and heard about ways to approach social change fearlessly. An Ushahidi meet-up at the Violet Crown was the perfect way to cap off the night.

On Saturday, we worked to get our bearings. Lesson learned: Becky is not a good navigator. In any case, we kicked the day off over coffee with a PopTech friend and then managed to reunite with PopTech Fellows throughout the day, including Nick Merrill, Leila Janah and Josh Nesbit (panels here and here). While the weather was not overly cooperative (read: very rainy), a steady stream of caffeine and snacks (ie Fritos) kept us going.

By Sunday, we had a good rhythm down. We had a few energizing coffee meetings with PopTech supporters who also happened to be in Austin. We sat in on a SXSW Accelerator pitch session on health technologies and spied one of our founders, Bob Metcalfe from afar, who was one of the judges. We then hustled over to the convention center to catch the tail end of Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York talk followed by a presentation by Fabien Cousteau. We wrapped up Sunday eve with a stop at the Spotify party at which we had the pleasure of watching Chromeo perform. Thanks to Rich Frankel for the invite – we had a great time.

On Monday, (finally, a sunny day!) we had breakfast with a PopTech friend at one of our favorite spots, Old Pecan Street Café. Back to the convention center we went, this time to catch a session with Girls Who Code CEO Reshma Saujani. Afterwards, we headed over to the Participant Media space at Wanderlust and took in a fantastic panel, “Innovating at Scale: Tech for Social Good,” which featured PopTech Fellow Anushka Ratnayake, Meighan Stone of the World Food Program USA, Meryl Stone of Google.org and Rose Beaumont of MasterCard. It was refreshing to see a panel full of smart, inspiring women. 

Later that day, we hosted a PopTech meet-up at the BitTorrent party. Thanks a bunch to Matt Mason for generously offering up their venue. It was a blast to round up the PopTech troops and spend time catching up outdoors. There’s nothing quite like looking around and seeing people we know from all over the world gathered together.

Whew. That’s some of our SXSW experience in a nutshell. It was great to see the ethos of the PopTech network — collaboration and engagement — in action. It makes us even more excited for the PopTech conference this fall. October can’t come soon enough.  

Note: Photos taken on an iPhone. Excuse the lackluster photography.

Health, art, constitutions and the truth: Reasons to celebrate on International Women's Day

Brilliant. Curious. Intrepid. Compassionate. Committed. 

The extraordinary women in the PopTech network are making a difference in the world in ways that range from producing health innovations that save mothers' lives and keep girls in school (Laura Stachel and Megan Mukuria), to making art and music that helps us remember that joy and happiness matter (Helen Marriage and Imogen Heap), to co-authoring Iceland's national constitution so that it suits its people (Silja Bára Ómarsdóttir), and to reminding us that we should always tell the truth (Laura Poitras).  And in many, many, many other ways as well. 

We celebrate the work of the women in the PopTech network this International Women's Day.

#ThrowbackThursday Toaster Talk

A #ThrowbackThursday PopTech talk from designer Thomas Thwaites, who brought us on the fascinating and hilarious journey he took to create a toaster from scratch. 

My sabbatical year

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

After more than a decade helping to transform PopTech into a respected global innovation and social change network, I am happy to announce that in 2014, I am taking a long-desired creative sabbatical. My collaborator, PopTech’s President Leetha Filderman, will be taking the reins. She and the PopTech team are preparing for an amazing 2014 calendar, including unveiling the theme and speaker lineup for our annual conference, implementing a new series of events called the PopTech Roadtrip, and identifying the 2014 classes of our renowned Fellows programs. Stay tuned for an exciting year ahead!

During this time, I’ll be diving into ideas related to our work, exploring new vistas around creativity, social innovation and resilience, and working to bring the lessons I’ve gathered in the last decade to a broader array of organizations and projects. While common in academic settings, the practice of granting sabbaticals is now gaining traction among progressive companies and organizations. I am proud that PopTech is on the leading edge of this idea.

During my sabbatical year I will remain affiliated with PopTech, acting as a strategic advisor to the Board and working on a limited number of projects. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to engaging with all of you in our community in new ways.

Wish me luck on my adventure!



How to succeed in sports... and in life

What is the single characteristic most likely to predict success in athletes? Our mini-series concludes with two powerful women. 

We posed the question to world-class adaptive snowboarder (PopTech 2012) Amy Purdy, who said, "I believe it's your ability to visualize yourself. Visualization is mental practice and your body doesn't know the difference between mental practice or physical practice."

For those of you who don't already know, Amy is part of the first-ever Paralympic snowboarding team and will be competing in Sochi this March. We'll be rooting for you, Amy!

Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa Shields joined Amy Purdy at PopTech 2012. She talked about her challenging journey to the Olympics and shared insights that sound familiar to those we heard from Amy Purdy, Rodney Mullen and Elizabeth Streb over this past week. Unwavering determination and the will to fight go a long, long way. Also, you might have heard that Claressa Shields recently won her first USA Boxing Elite National Title with a unanimous decision. It's a huge win for her and another step to getting her the recognition she deserves.

A common thread we've seen in talking to these athletes is many of the qualities that predict success in a sport carry over to life outside athletics, too. We hope you enjoy Amy Purdy and Claressa Shields' talks. 

Robot love

A lovely talk for Valentine's Day. At PopTech 2009, Kacie Kinzer took the stage to tell us about Tweenbot. It's a tiny, cardboard robot she built to help her explore what technology can reveal about empathy and cooperation. Hear how its cuteness convinced 29 strangers to help it with a task. 

The woman who could fly

Next up in our "Here comes the gold!" series is Elizabeth Streb, Extreme Athlete and PopTech 2007 speaker (her talk). We asked her the question we posed to Rodney Mullen yesterday: What in her opinion is the single characteristic most likely to predict success in athletes?  

Her response? You need a "rapid unremitting Junkyard Dog will." You need "fight...the impulse to never retreat - or surrender." And you need to be able to "contend...with pain in a theoretical manner."

Elizabeth's update? She is the star of Catherine Gund's amazing new film, "Born to Fly," which will premiere at SXSW this March. You can also catch it at the Film Forum on September 10th in NYC. For those of you hungry for a "more tactile and fierce existence in the world," see this! It will inspire you.

Here comes the gold! And not just in Sochi...

With everyone's eyes on Sochi, we got to thinking about some of the talented and innovative athletes who've graced our own stage. We've had an Olympic gold medalist, a world-class adaptive snowboarder, and an extreme action artist, just to name a few. These guys are good. Really really good. So we asked a few of them what in their opinion is the single characteristic most likely to predict success in athletes.  

First up: Rodney Mullen, "The "Godfather of Street Skating" (Watch his PopTech 2013 talk here

"When skaters — or any athlete I've known, really — internalize the competitive part so much that it dissolves, they become what they do; that's the first that burns the hottest, that isn't conditional, and doesn't waver — the rest are just performance parameters that hopefully line up for 'em. Nearly all the pros I can think of who make it to the top and stay there — a fairly small number — have a little bit of craziness to them. In fact of the most gifted ones I know who didn't make it, that same kind of craziness is the one thing they lack. The nature of How We Practice determines success more than any single factor — excluding overly generalized terms, like 'gifts' or 'drive.'"

Camden skateboarders of all ages enjoy learning from Rodney. 

As for what's new in his world, Rodney reports that he has been doing some work with an amazing photographer that "will capture skating in a way that's definitely never been done before," which all came about through a friendship with Dhani Harrison, George Harrison's son. We can't wait to share the results!

Next up? Elizabeth Streb. Stay tuned. 

Data, impact, jobs, design: 20 minutes with PopTech Fellows

Earlier this week, we opened the nominations for the 2014 class of PopTech Social Innovation Fellows. Do you or someone you know qualify? Take a look here and apply between now and April 1. Fellows gain access to training, mentors and a year-round community to increase their visibility and create lasting impact. 

To celebrate our search for the next generation of innovators, we're highlighting the work of a few PopTech Fellows alumni below. Enjoy!

"I met a lot of other people...who wanted to use design to close that gap in social inequality instead of continuously increasing it. I learned there are tens of thousands of designers and engineers who want to be involved in humanitarian work, but their opportunity is limited to volunteering or low-paying jobs...that's failure on all of our parts." - Heather Fleming of Catapult Design

"90% of the planet is thought to be literate and youth in poor countries speak English, they use Facebook on their mobile phones and they don't want our charity, they want a job. So the big question is, how do we employ them?" - Leila Janah of Samasource 

"To date, we've had over 3,000 students from 100 countries in one of our 50 online courses and these students have gone on to get jobs and start projects in their communities. 95% have said, 'This has made a difference in my life and in my work.'" - Nick Martin of TechChange

"There's all this data available to help [social organizations] maximize their impact, and no one is looking at it." - Jake Porway of DataKind 

Two PopTech talks on #WorldCancerDay to inspire and educate

Jim Olson and Siddhartha Mukherjee

In its new report, the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization states that in 2012, "the worldwide burden of cancer rose to an estimated 14 million new cases per year, a figure expected to rise to 22 million annually within the next two decades." Wow. 

Whether you may be a cancer survivor or fighter, caregiver or supporter, it goes without saying that today is a special day of reflection, education and awareness. 

On World Cancer Day, we pay tribute to two inspiring researchers who took the PopTech stage and showed us that passionate people are working hard to fill the gaps in cancer research and understanding. 

Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist, received a standing ovation at PopTech 2013. His incredible research around "tumor paints" —which use scorpion venom — will show you why. Jim stated, "it was in the back row of [my former patient Hayden's] memorial service that I sat there and decided I was not going to consider grants, publications, promotions or space. Instead I was going to design every experiment in my career toward making sure that other families didn't have to go through what Hayden's went through."

In 2010, another cancer pioneer took the PopTech stage. When physician and researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee discovered there was almost nothing on the origins of cancer, he was inspired to write a book, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. "Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" explores the history of this disease that has affected humans for more than five thousand years. 

We're grateful for the work of these two physicians and the many others who are working on solutions aimed at reversing the alarming statistics.