Thursday, March 15, 2012

My South By Southwest (SXSW) Recap

Representing mobile software startup Duet Health and the EndoGoddess App, I just returned from the South By Southwest Interactive Festival (the superbowl for technology breakthroughs), which continues to be an epic meeting for learning new approaches to solving problems. I will share a few of my favorite mobile-related technologies that were discussed at South By and how they might offer solutions for healthcare problems.

Digital shadow is the name given to the data concerning what an individual shows an interest in online which is then accumulated for various purposes, usually marketing and advertising. At South By, the digital shadow concept for health and behavior change was discussed by entrepreneur and technology visionary David Rose who has already designed such products as the ambient fridge pictured above to tell you about the weather in a utilitarian fashion. David has also already designed ground-breaking products for medication adherence such as Glowcaps which combines medication packaging with digital reminder and motivation concepts. He is now moving to the integration within furniture/appliances so as to collect valid information about our digital shadows for health. For instance, perhaps a refrigerator could not only display data about the weather but also collect food intake data and related digital shadows. In order to better integrate the objects into our lives for easier data shadowing, he is asking questions about the objects such as 'what are you about- holding food or creating food'? Huge implications are possible for health and wellness if personal food behavior can be better understood and then influenced to create 'positive addictions' as was the name of the South By session.

Although he believes less in mobile and more in utilitarian objects such as the amber vials that inspired Glowcaps (pictured above), David Rose has found great success in using an approach to behavior change that integrates technology into utilitarian objects. I actually feel that mobile has its greatest power because it IS a utilitarian object and a constant part of our current lives, almost like an additional appendage for teenagers...have you ever seen a teenager without their phone? Furthermore, the phone is about to take a huge jump in utilitarianism within our lives as mobile payments become a reality as is discussed below.

The session on interchange zero and mobile payments struck me greatly at this year's South By Southwest Festival. The concept was discussed by Seth Priebatsch (pictured above), proud Princeton dropout and CEO of SCVGR, a mobile start-up trying to build the game layer on top of the world, as well as LevelUp, a mobile payments platform. Our phone will soon replace our wallet. The power behind mobile payments is its ability to reduce the friction in the payment system from 20% to 0% (interchange zero). In other words, currently, for every $1 currently spent, 20 cents is required to transfer the money from our check cards/credit cards to the merchants (unless they take cash only). The real power in mobile payments is how this will help to create an economic ecosystem that contributes to sustained reduced costs...imagine the implications for healthcare!

StartUp Health and Health 2.0 are trying to reduce the friction in the heatlh entrepreneurship process, too. At South By, StartUp Health celebrated a new class of  'entrepreneural students' or transformers as they call them that will be part of a ground-breaking structured mentoring program specific to the health space: putting money and resources behind the words 'we support you in this industry'. Gatherings like their party at South By provide a wonderful place where entrepreneurs like myself together with Duet Health have the opportunity to discuss our app integration ideas with device entrepreneurs such as AgaMatrix' mobile director Yishai Knobel (pictured with me above). Watch for exciting developments on this front, and follow me on this blog as I adventure through the FDA regulatory process for EndoGoddess app integration with glucometers over the coming months as I'm sure it will be a learning experience for us all! Yishai spoke eloquently with Health 2.0 about his prediction for seamless integration and partnerships as a trend over the next 2 years:


If I didn't know who the CEO of Pinterest (Ben Silbermann) was, I would have actually thought that he was a behavioralist after listening to him opine and speak about Pinterest at South By Southwest. Pinterest is a popular startup that has exploded over the past 6 months (infographic). The site is used for showcasing collections such as books, stamps, recipes, clothes which are an expression of self explained during a session as follows:

Sharing your 'collections' on Pinterest provides a platform for self-awareness, expression, dreaming, and perhaps behavior change to be the person you want to be (ie, this is 'what I'm about').  However, he clearly pointed out that hobbies and interests exist independent of Pinterest and always will. Pinterest is just a vehicle for making connections with other similar collectors and increasing your own collections and dreams. He believes that this focus on users' intrinsic interests is key to the offline behavior change he has been informed of such as cooking new recipes and new fitness exercises that inspired users on Pinterest. An unknown realm is how to help users to discover interests that they never knew they had and is one of  the Pinterest CEO's interests to tackle in the future.

Pinterest's CEO is currently fascinated by devices such as the fitbit, a wireless activity and sleep tracking device (pictured above), and how a social site can combine with such devices to help users find new interests they didn't know that they had (ie, hidden intrinsic interests). Perhaps 'collections' of sensors such as the fitbit on Pinterest may be the next big thing in health and behavior change? I am a HUGE fan and user of Pinterest and look forward to exploring connections like this further as well for health and behavior change, particularly as related to obesity and diabetes (I'm an endocrinologist after all).

In conclusion, partnerships, integrated devices, apps, Pinterest, and mobile payments are the South By Southwest technology trends that I feel are most likely to influence healthcare problems today. Overall, apps are still hot as they were almost always discussed as part of the integration strategies for all the technologies...a bit like the glue that holds everything together. Also a trend, the subtle fashion subtext throughout this South By post: blue for diabetes awareness! :)


  1. Thanks for the recap! Looks like a great conference, and some exciting stuff is ahead. Can't wait to see what the future holds!

  2. Jen--if you can explain the fascination with pinterest you are way smarter than me. I cant even get a trial account!

  3. Matthew- I just sent an invite to your gmail account. I LOVE pinterest. It is so very very beautiful. I am also using it now as my main index to organize my shopping and cooking interest. Sometimes I like to just look at my boards and sort of wander around in the prettiness of the things I love...it's like a visual dreamland. Regarding health, seems the best way to use pinterest would be to distribute health information related to facts that people would like to 'collect'...this is the way users like me are looking at the pins on the main feed (ie, what do I like and want to collect and add to my boards?). Hope that helps! If not, follow me on pinterest for a few days and I think you'll get the hang of it. :)

  4. Liked your take on Pinterest. I admire your fearless approach to new technologies and admire your vision for ways those new ideas can help treat and cure diseases. Keep those blogs coming!

  5. Thanks so much for this, Jen, especially the summary on David Rose. I'm interested in adherence issues for hormonal therapies prescribed for breast cancer survivors. The drugs have multiple side effects and less than 50% of the population is able to finish the usual five-yr. course of treatment. Will this lead to and increasing rate of recurrence down the road? Wouldn't it be in our best interest to develop a way to support women with creative technologies?

    All the sessions sounded outstanding. I've read conflicting things about Pinarest and potential issues with copyright. Whether or not those are valid remains to be seen. You've piqued my interest!

    I'm sorry we weren't able to connect. Hopefully next year:)


    1. I agree about the imporance of focus on adherence to breast cancer treatments and on working with creative technologies, definitely a good idea. So sorry we didn't meet in real life, SXSW is a crazy time for sure. Hope to meet at another meeting though! Thank you for your consistent kindness and support via social media, means alot to me! :)