6 Takeaways From SXSW: Female Innovators on Weed, Smart Sex Toys and Robots


The buzzy topics at SXSW over the last week and a half were pretty much what you’d expect from a gathering of the most innovative names in tech as they collide with a country in cultural flux: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, drones, the role of tech in the Trump era, health, diversity, and innovation for social justice. And the startup industry’s favorite narrative structure—David and Goliath—continues to dominate, wherein seemingly small players are disrupting the monster leaders of this world. Stick it to the man, indeed, and who better to do so than the innovative ladies shaking things up in the tech and startup world? Check out these six areas where women are changing the conversation:

1. Cannabis: Start your empire now

“You’re going to quit banking to sell drugs? Are you nuts?” The parents of Giadha Decarcer, CEO of Frontier Financial Group, weren’t thrilled with her decision at first, because cannabis is not the polite thing for girls to do. But considering its wide range of medical benefits and the fact that sales are expected to triple over the next four years, Decarcer is getting in at a good time, to say the very least. And they’re hiring: marketers, data analysts, pharmacists, staffing companies—there are openings pretty much across the board. Wanda James, CEO of Simply Pure and first black woman to own a dispensary in Colorado, is on a mission to get minorities in the green rush: “It’s time for women and people of color to take charge,” she says.

2. Sex technology: Technically, this smart vibrator understands you better than your partner

Studies show that about 30% of women have trouble reaching orgasm during sex—something that impacts your confidence, your relationships and your health. Research and the sex-health industry continues to be dominated by men, but leave it to the women to come up with some of the most exciting ideas hitting the marketplace: Anna Lee is the mechanical engineer behind the first smart vibrator, Lioness. The vibrator comes equipped with a flexible clitoral nub and multiple sensors for temperature, speed, rotation, and angle; it sends data to an app that charts your sessions, developing personalized recommendations based on what you like. The product is currently available for pre-order.


3. Tech: As a woman, people will underestimate you. Use that to your advantage.

OK, so that isn’t exactly inspirational-quote-for-your-mug material, but it's some poignant real talk courtesy of Merci Grace from Slack. She joined other influential women of tech such as Fidji Simo, Director of Product at Facebook, who discussed how she moved up the ranks by listening and getting the inside view from people who didn’t think she was a threat. Now she’s been all over Fortune, Forbes and Wired. Other power tips from Stephanie Hannon, formerly at Google: “Find environments where your skill set is unique: That’s where you will innovate.” And, “If you need a confidence boost, put yourself in scary situations and figure it out.”

 photo by Mara Lecocq

photo by Mara Lecocq

4. Film: We need more women making the decisions (in addition to making the films)

The general consensus with the film industry is that making a film is the easy part compared to getting distribution. The media talks a lot about the lack of female filmmakers, but in order to change the industry on a larger scale, we need female distributors, buyers, critics, investors, board members and decision-makers. Isabel Sandoval is an award-winning filmmaker and activist who tells the stories of unsung heroes and the disempowered. Here’s her advice for female filmmakers looking to land investors: “When you pitch a film, you need to be confident in articulating a strong business case. Don’t act like a ‘creative’: you need to behave like an entrepreneur. You need to be assertive and be sold on your talent.”


5. Virtual Reality: Game design for social good

VR isn’t just dudes with guns and roller coasters. Industry pioneer Nonny de la Pena created an experience for Planned Parenthood where participants witness firsthand what many women go through in seeking an abortion, being confronted by protesters outside of clinics. Check it out.

 photo by Mara Lecocq

photo by Mara Lecocq

6. Artificial Intelligence: Westworld is happening—and it’s more sexist than you think.

The exhibit featuring  Ishiguro Laboratories started out as a seemingly innocent show of innovation: a male robot and female robot are having a debate with a human. It was cool, and the technology is impressive. But the male bot led the conversation with assertive words like “Let’s” and “don’t,” and the female bot was pretty much a wallflower with vocabulary limited to “I’m confused,” “I agree,” “I’m sad,” “I’m jealous.” Yikes. Ladies, looks like we’re going to need to take the fight to spread feminism to the robots, too.

-Mara Lecocq is the founder and co-creator of Secret Code. A Filipino-French creative based in New York, she loves muay thai and weird people with good hearts. 

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