From Row 18B: SXSW Interactive 2014 Edition

In 2011, tech went mainstream at SXSW. That was the first year Interactive attendees eclipsed Music, the very reason why the conference spawned in the first place back in 1987. Interactive continued to dominate this year by swelling to 30,000 developers, designers, influencers, bloggers, entrepreneurs, VCs, startups and all shades of marketing and creative professionals participating.

Over the course of five days, we came across insightful sessions from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of networking events hosted by industry leaders and startups alike, and a lineup of special programs showcasing the best new services, apps and startups the community has to offer.

Some bemoan the size of SXSW—how intimacy and serendipity are lost. But at the end of day, it's still that one place where everybody comes together once a year to catch up, make connections and "get stuff done" (yes, it happens).

At such a large event, any view is fractured at best. The following is a smidge of ideas, trends and startups we came across.

Grownup Issues

Grownup Issues

Moments of unabashed, fierce celebrations of the web that marked SXSW Interactive of the past were replaced by thoughtful discussions on data privacy, data security, and the rollercoaster fate of crypto currency (not to mention the geek whodunit giving birth to a new paradox). Remote appearances by both Snowden and Assange, the big draw keynotes this year, gave the conference a somber undertone which in many ways was a reflection of society grappling with the ever growing role of technology in our lives.

Hardware, You Won

Walking through Austin Convention Center, the sheer volume of hardware would make you think somebody teleported you to CES. Here are a few notable ones:

Moff, a wearable smart toy that transforms gestures into sounds through your phone;

The Eye Tribe, a Danish company offering affordable eye-tracking units with an SDK for developers to create apps that can control technology with the motion of their eyes;

Skully Helmets, the winner of SXSW Accelerator in wearable tech category and current cohort in the Wearable World Labs, with their augmented reality helmet giving motorcycle riders a 180 degree rearview camera, voice control and GPS.

And in case you're looking for that extra peace of mind at home? CUPID's got you covered.

Higher Calling of Tech

Higher Calling of Tech

The global reach of technology and its role in driving social innovation were running themes in and outside the conference. Downtown Austin was peppered with thematic hangouts where innovators from countries such as Germany and France had a chance to show their chops. In the Exhibition Hall, Japanese startups among others managed to bring the noise with their unique blend of startup culture.

On the stage, Chelsea Clinton talked about how volunteering and giving are being democratized through transformative technology that help emerging societies and developing nations such as:

Sproxil - identifies counterfeit pharmaceuticals;

M-Pesa - a mobile-phone based money transferring service from Kenya

iCow - an agrotech app letting dairy farmer produce healthier cows; and

BRCK - a Nairobi-based portable backup generator that brings better internet connectivity to challenged infrastructures.

Biz Stone in an interview by his hero-author Steven Johnson talked about people's inherent desire to make the world a better place if given the chance by stating "If you build the right tools, people will do good things with them". An undeniable notion given Twitter's role in mobilizing masses at milestone moments in recent history.

Congratulations to the winners of epic pitches!

Microsoft Ventures had the pleasure of being invited to judge at two pitch contests. Here are the winning startups:

HATCH Pitch

1st place: Seratis (@seratishealth)

2nd place: YouEarnedIt (@youearnedit)

3rd place: SmartestK12 (@smartestk12)

Startup Oasis

Winner: Windsor Circle (@windsorcircle)