SXSW is back for 2021 — and applications are open for the startup pitch competition. Photo by Marie Ketring via sxsw.org

On March 6, just days before the 2020 SXSW festival was scheduled to begin, local officials issued an emergency order, effectively banning large-scale events in Austin as the novel coronavirus began spreading across the U.S. As a result, SXSW canceled its flagship 10-day festival for the first time ever.

In retrospect, the decision likely saved lives and helped curb the spread of COVID-19, but SXSW's corporate fallout was fast and brutal. Within days, SXSW laid off 30 percent of its Austin-based workforce, and many were left wondering if the festival would ever return.

Finally, a bright spot of news in a dark time: SXSW is back. Yes, it will look different than years past, but beginning Tuesday, November 10, registration is open for SXSW Online, taking place March 16-20, 2021.

"This year has been one like none of us have faced. At SXSW, the impact has been profound and has involved substantial changes in how we work, so it means a lot for us to have the chance to plan a 2021 digital event where we can share experiences and exchange ideas at this crucial time," says SXSW co-founder and CEO Roland Swenson in a release.

Since its founding in 1987, SXSW has grown from a little Texas music festival to an internationally renowned festival that attracts the brightest minds in technology, film, music, and comedy. The 2021 digital version will capture much of that spirit, with signature keynote addresses, conference sessions, music showcases, comedy sets, film screenings, and other "unexpected discoveries."

Badges are on sale beginning today, and are priced at $149 for a limited time. By March 2021, that rate will go up to $399. Student and group discounts are also available. Digital passes grant access to the following:

  • SXSW Keynotes and Featured Speakers
  • Mentor sessions and workshops
  • SXSW Film Festival screenings, events, and exclusive premieres
  • SXSW Music Festival showcases and events
  • SXSW Comedy Festival content
  • Online exhibitions
  • Networking opportunities
SXSW's startup pitch competition will return in 2021 too. Applications are open online — early bird applications for $29 will be accepted until November 24, and regularly priced submissions are accepted up to January 8 for $59.

A lineup isn't yet available — SXSW usually announces details in the two months leading up to the festival — but community voting on SXSW session proposals is currently underway through November 20. Peruse the more than 1,500 panels here, and vote for the ones you want to attend next year.

"It's a new day for America and for the world," Swenson adds. "We have the opportunity to face challenges that affect us all, and we're honored to bring you the conversations that will renew your hope in tomorrow."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston's Nobel Prize winner, Jim Allison, is the star of Breakthrough, which premieres on Independent Lens at 9 pm Monday, April 27, on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App. Photo via SXSW.com

Documentary featuring Houston Nobel Prize winner to air on PBS

to-watch list

Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, our current coronavirus heroes are donning face masks as they save lives. One local health care hero has a different disease as his enemy, and you'll soon be able to stream his story.

Dr. James "Jim" Allison won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in battling cancer by treating the immune system — rather than the tumor. Allison, who is the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center, has quietly and often, singularly, waged war with cancer utilizing this unique approach.

The soft-spoken trailblazer is the subject of an award-winning documentary, Jim Allison: Breakthrough, which will air on PBS and its streaming channels on Monday, April 27 at 9 pm (check local listings for channel information). Lauded as "the most cheering film of the year" by the Washington Post, the film follows Allison's personal journey to defeat cancer, inspired and driven by the disease killed his mother.

Breakthrough is narrated by Woody Harrelson and features music by Willie Nelson, adding a distinct hint of Texana. (The film was a star at 2019's South by Southwest film festival.) The documentary charts Alice, Texas native as he enrolls at the University of Texas, Austin and ultimately, cultivates an interest in T cells and the immune system — and begins to frequent Austin's legendary music scene. Fascinated by the immune system's power to protect the body from disease, Allison's research soon focuses on how it can be used to treat cancer.

Viewers will find Allison charming, humble, and entertaining: the venerable doctor is also an accomplished blues harmonica player. Director Bill Haney weaves Allison's personal story with the medical case of Sharon Belvin, a patient diagnosed with melanoma in 2004 who soon enrolled in Allison's clinical trials. Belvin has since been entirely cancer-free, according to press materials.

"We are facing a global health challenge that knows no boundaries or race or religion, and we are all relying on gifted and passionate scientists and healthcare workers to contain and ultimately beat this thing," said Haney, in a statement. "Jim Allison and the unrelenting scientists like him are my heroes – and I'll bet they become yours!"

Jim Allison: Breakthrough premieres on Independent Lens at 9 pm Monday, April 27, on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Three Houston-based startups logged on to pitch digitally this week since SXSW was canceled. Getty Images

Houston startups turn to digital pitches during coronavirus shutdown

available online only

When SXSW canceled a couple weeks ago, event organizers were sent into a frantic scramble of how to salvage some aspect of their plans while also balancing lost deposits, canceled travel, and so much more.

Three pitch events associated with SXSW and featuring Houston startups went on in a digital capacity, and the social distancing has only just began. Michele Price who leads Startup Grind Houston says the Google-backed organization with locations everywhere is aware of the need for digital networking options.

"We are all going to be in some education training ourselves learning how to deliver value to our communities from the digital space," Price says during her video pitch conference call, "and how to take our face-to-face opportunities and events and work them over so that they can meet the needs of where we all are right now."

Here are the Houston companies who had to switch up their pitches for an online audience this week.

Footprint App takes 3rd place in Hatch Pitch

footprint

Climate change sparked a young Houstonian to create Footprint, an app that tracks a person's ecological impact. Photo courtesy of Footprint

On Monday, Houston-based Hatch Pitch was supposed to have its annual pitch competition from SXSW in Austin. Per usual, Hatch was going to stream the invite-only competition to online viewers. However, with SXSW being canceled, the program went completely online. The four entrepreneurs who were selected to pitch for the panel of judges presented online and each of the judges chimed in with questions and feedback.

The four startups that pitched were Los Angeles-based Mi Terra, Canada-based Byte Sight, New Jersey-based Well Power, and Houston-based Footprint. WellPower won first place, as well as the crowd award, Byte Sight took second and the audience award, and Footprint won third.

Dakota Stormer founded Footprint last year and said this was his first pitch competition. Footprint is an app that tracks the carbon footprints of users. It works similar to diet-tracking apps like MyFitnessPal, but it doesn't count the calories; instead, it logs the emissions of their eating and travel habits. Read more about Footprint here.

Hatch Pitch has plans to have a second pitch competition later next month focused on cybersecurity. It's, at the moment, still planned to take place in person at the Houston Cyber Summit.

For All Abilities pitches for Startup Grind Houston

for all abilities

Betsy Furler founded For All Abilities to use technology to support employees with disabilities. Photo courtesy of For All Abilities

With so many startups' plans to attend SXSW ruined, Startup Grind Houston planned an online pitch event. There weren't any prizes, but it was a good way to virtually network and share stories. Houston-based For All Abilities founder, Betsy Furler, explained her software company that aims to help businesses support employees with ADHD, Dyslexia, learning differences, and Autism.

The company, which launched in April 2019, was founded by Betsy Furler, who specializes in workplace disability issues. Furler created a strengths, needs, and preferences assessment to uncover the needs and preferences of employees to prescribe specific, individualized, inexpensive, and easy-to-use support.

Furler called for potential partners as she scales her growth.

"Ideal customer is the large companies who care about their employees," she says in her pitch, explaining that she thinks companies on the West Coast would be particularly interested.

Velour Imports presents for The Established's Startup of the Year competition

Velour Imports makes it easier for big resorts to get wholesale craft drinks. Pexels

The Established House has hosted a pitch competition every year at SXSW, and this year was no different — except that it went on online only. Fourteen companies from across the country pitched, including one Houston representative.

Velour Imports is a beverage wholesale marketplace that uses a similar concept as Uber Eats to connect resorts and hospitality clients to pallets of craft beer, wine, hard cider, and spirits from a digital menu and then watch orders arrive from any smartphone or web device. It's usually quite difficult to order craft beverages on a large scale, and Velour Imports provides that solution in an innovative, digital form.

"Luxury resorts and hotels have an annual challenge of creating exciting, new food and beverage experiences to attract guests," says founder Brooke Sinclair in her pitch, "but rarely do they have the time and resources to go shopping."

While Velour didn't win any of the top five spots in the competition, she did get positive feedback on her presentation.

SXSW was canceled this year due to the rising threat of COVID19, aka the coronavirus, but these events are still ones to check out if you are still planning on attending. Marie Ketring/via sxsw.org

The show must go on with these SXSW-related events in Houston and Austin

Texas strong

With SXSW canceled — and now the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has followed suit — and Austin and Houston entrepreneurs are reeling from the loss of networking, pitch competitions, and business opportunities. But unaffiliated organizations are trying to keep some of the spirit of SXSW alive in both Texas cities and online.

"Coronavirus dropped an economic bomb on Austin, and we are trying to triage the scraps," says Marc Nathan, vice president of client strategy at Egan Nelson, an Austin-based, startup-focused law firm.

The economic impact of SXSW 2019 was reported by the organization to have been over $350 million, and, even assuming this year's festival was on par with that, the city of Austin has lost more than that — from the affect on restaurants, lodging, and more. At this point, refunds are not being given out to badge holders.

Additionally, the organization itself is hurting. The 10-day festival has a year-round staff of over 150 people, and SXSW has recently laid off around 30 percent of those employees. Nathan, who says he highly suspects the organization will have to look into restructuring or even bankruptcy, also notes the cancelation will hurt individuals in a way that's not so easy to track.

"This did affect individuals," Nathan says. "Yes, the big brands were hurt and lost a lot of money, but it's not about them. It's about the little guys — the startups that wanted to launch, the bands that wanted to play, or the films that were selected for the contest. It's all the people who use SXSW as a platform, and that platform just disintegrated."

A group of scrappy Austinites have banded together to create Rally Austin and are putting together resources and events online for those still coming into the city and are looking to network responsibly. A few events are also taking place digitally. Here's a list of events to attend, and keep an eye on Rally Austin for any last-minute updates.

Houston-based WatchHerWork's Female Founders Day (March 12 in Austin)

Two Houston female founders — Reda Hicks and Denise Hamilton — saw an opportunity to make SXSW more female friendly, and that's what they've done by introducing this new unofficial SXSW event. Click here for more.

Hicks recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the opportunity. Click here to listen.

SoFin @ SXSW 2020 (March 13 in Austin)

Focused on fintech solutions, SoFin will go on as planned and will feature Houston-based iownit.us, a blockchain-enabled investment platform. Click here for more info.

The Austin Tech Happy Hour will also still be held on Friday, March 13, in Austin. Click here for more info.

Houston-based Hatch Pitch Competition (March 16 hosted online)

The annual pitch competition, which is usually streamed online, will switch to completely online only. Click here for more info.

Hatch Pitch is also expected to host a Houston-based, cybersecurity-focused competition next month. Click here to read more.

OpenCoffee Club (March 16 in Austin)

Open Coffee Club, a monthly networking opportunity, will continue as planned. Networking is encouraged, handshaking is not. Click here for more info.

Digital Pitch - An Alternative to SXSW2020 (March 17 hosted online)

Houston's Startup Grind has organized a digital pitch competition that will be hosted completely online. Click here for more info.

Startup of the Year Virtual Pitch Competition (March 17 hosted online)

The Established's annual pitch competition is going online, despite The Established House's physical location being canceled. A Houston-based company will still pitch and the competition has Houston judges involved as well. Click here for more info.

A Houston startup that uses tech to speed up and lower the cost of home building will pitch at SXSW this year. Photo via 3spacemakers.com

Houston-area construction tech startup prepares for next phase at SXSW

homes for everyone

Conroe-based construction tech company that specializes in creating technology to develop cost-efficient high-quality homes built in half the time is gearing up for new growth due to their recent selection as a finalist in SXSW Pitch 2020.

3Space Makers was at first selected as an alternate in the "Artificial Intelligence, Robotics & Voice" category for the 12th annual SXSW Pitch, formerly known as SXSW Accelerator, but was recently bumped to finalist.

"It's gratifying to learn that we have been selected," Ted Cox, CEO and co-founder of 3Space Makers, tells InnovationMap. "Our team has been working really hard for this moment. I think that not only do we have a good product, but the mission that we are on is what is resonating the most."

3Space Makers uses robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing to spur innovation in the construction industry, allowing for faster manufacturing processes which, according to Cox, will enable homes to be built better, faster, and cheaper. The typical 3Space Makers home takes one month to build, drastically reducing the time frame of construction projects and thus reducing their cost.

"Everything in the construction industry right now is manual and human-driven," says Cox. "Until now that has been enough to get the job done. A typical home currently takes 3 to 6 months to build, 3Space Makers dramatically takes the inefficiencies out of the construction industry."

The company is developing new innovative technology marrying autonomous robotics and cloud-based control systems to produce detailed data to validate building standards. Their Fab & Fill process uses eco-friendly material known as BioSilicate to manufacture complete metal-framed walls and roofs using semi-automated processes.

The eco-friendly material can be made from natural materials native for particular regions such as corn husks and sugar cane, converting waste material into revenue for local farmers.

"We are building homes that are safe, durable, and affordable to those who are most in need using our processes," says Cox "We can cut the time of construction in about half along with the cost, that makes homes available for those who couldn't afford it otherwise, it's a bringing the promise of technology to the construction industry."

The idea for 3Space Makers was born out of the need to help vulnerable members of society, including low-income families and homeless veterans who cannot afford to buy a home with current high real estate prices.

The construction start-up aims to meet its '50/50/50' performance target to benefit veterans and low-income families.

"Any technology or process we develop," says Cox. "Must be 50 percent faster, 50 percent less expensive and 50 percent better than current methods on the market."

At their SXSW pitch, 3Space Makers will premiere as Integra Homes, a rebrand that represents a focus on increasing affordability for homes. The company is also currently working on raising a round of funding this year, along with gearing up to grow their facilities to finish their current projects, including building 5,000 homes in the U.S. and Jamaica.

"When we were originally founded, our focus was on serving homeless veterans, that remains to this day," says Cox. "But we also found that there is quite a need, not only in the U.S. for affordable homes. By being able to come in and build high-quality affordable homes with the help of our technological processes, it's going to make a big difference for many individuals."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Chevron to launch makerspace at The Cannon, Houston a top city for STEM, and more innovation news

Short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags a win at a pitch competition, Chevron announces a new makerspace, a software company makes an acquisition, and more.

Houston named a best city for STEM

Image via SmartAsset

For the fifth year, personal finance website, SmartAsset, analyzed data for the 35 cities in the county with the largest STEM workforces. The study looked at the racial diversity index as well as the gender diversity index. The data for both metrics comes from the Census Bureau's 2019 1-year American Community Survey.

Houston ranked No. 7 on the list, and according to the report, the total number of STEM workers in Houston, Texas exceeds 79,500. Around 70 percent of the total STEM workers there are men, and more than 30 percent are women. Additionally, Houston has the third-best race/ethnicity index score in the study with more than 19 percent of STEM workers are Hispanic or Latino, almost 20 percent are Asian, and more than 8 percent are Black.

Texas makes up about a third of the top 10 list with Dallas and Fort Worth coming in at No. 9 and No.10, respectively.

Chevron announces digital makerspace in The Cannon

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon and its surrounding Founders District in West Houston has announced the addition of Chevron's digital makerspace, which will be dedicated to startup partnerships and community organizations.

"Chevron's support for The Founders District and The Cannon expands our commitment to Houston's growing innovation ecosystem," says Barbara Burger, Chevron vice president, Innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in a news release. "We look forward to utilizing this new space to collaborate with other Chevron organizations, such as our Wells group, as we work to deliver more reliable, affordable, ever-cleaner energy."

While Chevron has been a key partner for The Cannon since 2018 and even had branded office space within the hub, this new space represents a new lease agreement for a significantly larger footprint.

"We are thrilled to partner with Chevron Technology Ventures in developing this exciting makerspace at The Founders District," says Mark Toon, CEO of Puma Development, the company developing The Founders District and founder of Work America Capital, a venture capital firm dedicated to investing in Houston-based businesses. "CTV is the paradigm for meaningful innovation in Houston. By investing in emerging technologies in energy, they are paving the way for innovation to remain at the heart of Houston's most prominent industry."

Lazarus 3D wins The Ion's pitch competition

Photo via Laz3d.com

After months of pitching events, The Ion's Startup Demo Day for 2020 concluded on November 18 with four final pitches from Lazarus 3D, Skylark Wireless, HelloWoofy, and Swoovy.

After each of the four founders presented at the virtual event, which was powered by Dell Technologies, Lazarus 3D, a startup that produces 3D-printed organs and tissues for surgical practice, took home the win and the cash prize.

"I'm so grateful to Ion Houston — I've met so many people and made so many connections," says Smriti Zaneveld, co-founder and president. "All of the companies that present at these events are doing something so meaningful."

Applications are now open for the next series. Apply online by clicking here.

Houston tech co. acquires New Zealand business

Photo via Onit.com

Houston-based Onit Inc., a legal software provider, announced that the company has acquired McCarthyFinch and its artificial intelligence platform.

"Our vision is to build AI into our workflow platform and every product across the Onit and SimpleLegal product portfolios," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "AI will have an active role in everything from enterprise legal management to legal spend management and contract lifecycle management, resulting in continuous efficiencies and cost savings for corporate legal departments.

"Historically, legal departments have been thought of as black boxes where requests go in and information, decisions or contracts come out with no real transparency," Elfman continues. "AI has the potential to enhance transparency and contribute to stronger enterprise-wide business collaboration in a way that conserves a lawyer's valuable time."

The newly acquired software has the capacity to accelerate contract processing by up to 70 percent and increase productivity by over 50 percent. With the acquisition, Onit is enhancing its new artificial intelligence platform Precedent and the company's first release on the platform will be ReviewAI.

New sustainability-focused app launches at Climathon

Photo courtesy of Footprint

Houston-based Footprint App Inc. launched its latest carbon footprint education and action software during the Houston Climathon that was hosted earlier this month by Impact Hub Houston.

By tracking the user's sustainable habits, the student-focused tool allows users to compete to reduce their environmental impact. Footprint has launched in over 50 classrooms across the nation and is also being used by several corporations.

"With the state of Texas recently receiving an 'F' in climate education from the National Science Foundation, we see Footprint as the perfect tool for K-12 and beyond to help Texas students engage with climate science in a fun, competitive way," says Dakota Stormer, Footprint App, Inc. CEO and co-founder, in a news release.

Experts rank holiday activities that put Houston residents most at risk for COVID-19

COVID-19

The Texas Medical Association has released its COVID-19 holiday risk chart, a ranking of popular activities based on how likely one is to contract the novel coronavirus.

With infections spiking in Houston and across the country, the chart was updated from its original version with input from physicians on the TMA COVID-19 Task Force and the TMA Infectious Diseases Committee. Together, the group identified popular seasonal activities and the calculated the risk of spreading the virus.

"It's back! The TMA #COVID19 Task Force has developed a new version of our popular risk assessment chart to help you choose your activities wisely this holiday season," the Austin-based association said in a November 17 tweet accompanying the new chart.

Using a ranking of 1 to 10, the chart measures everything from viewing holiday lights with family in a car (1) to attending an outdoor public tree lighting ceremony (4) to celebrating New Year's Eve at a bar or club (10).

The chart also measures the thing we're perhaps most worried about during the holiday season: spending time with loved ones.

Based on the TMA risk chart (and pretty much all scientific experts), it's safer to only interact with your immediate household this year. Typical activities like decorating a gingerbread house with another household (4) or traveling by plane to visit family or friends (5) run a moderate risk, while taking photos with Santa (7), shopping in-person on Black Friday (8), and attending a large indoor celebration with singing (10) pose a moderate-to-high risk.

The Centers for Disease Control issued similar holiday guidelines on November 11, encouraging people to limit interactions with those outside their immediate household. If possible, host gatherings outside and keep all non-family members at least six feet apart.

Masks should be worn unless eating or drinking and especially when in airports, bus stations, train stations, gas stations, and rest stops.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The new risk-based guideline chart has been updated with seasonal activites. Courtesy of Texas Medical Association

Houston startup is fostering the future of chronic disease prevention and treatment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 59

A family illness got Jani Tuomi thinking — why does treatment of chronic conditions seem like too little, too late? When his brother fell ill, he wondered if more could have been done preemptively.

"The doctors were really good at treating him — but the question I had was why couldn't we have screened for this in advance," Tuomi says on this week's episode if the Houston Innovators Podcast.

He entertained his intuition and started researching, which transitioned into co-founding imaware, a digital health platform that focuses on early identification of chronic conditions — such as diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune issues. What Tuomi and his team found was that these chronic diseases come with biomarkers you can measure before you see symptoms.

Now, imaware exists to provide at-home blood tests for everything from heart health and allergies to thyroid and arthritis screening. And, as COVID-19 was emerging as an international threat across January and February, Tuomi says his team quickly jumped on a way to provide at-home coronavirus testing.

"Right away there was an amazing reception," Tuomi says, adding that big companies were looking to provide their employees on-site training. "There was way more need for testing than supply was available."

Imaware formed strategic partnerships with other Texas companies, including Austin-based startup Wheel — the telemedicine partner. Basically, users take a quick assessment online and if they are high risk, a health care worker is deployed to the patient's site to conduct the test. Once finished, the lab analyzes the sample and telemedicine professionals reach out with results and next steps.

Business for imaware has been booming, and Tuomi has had to scale his business virtually amid the pandemic. Imaware also has an office in Austin, which is focused on the digital side of business.

Looking forward, Tuomi says he's planning on zooming in on the various ways patients were affected by COVID-19, and this summer imaware formed a partnership with Texas A&M University researchers to begin that investigation. Tuomi says he doesn't expect the finalized data until early next year, but what he says the research seems to show is people reacted differently to the disease, and those reactions seem to relate to underlying or chronic conditions — the same conditions imaware has developed early testing for.

"Before COVID, imaware's mission was to identify individuals with chronic conditions earlier, so we're going to double down on our tests," Tuomi says.

Tuomi shares more about the lessons learned from turning around the COVID test so quickly, as well as some of the ways the pandemic has affected the health care industry as a whole. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.