EDU Innovation Rocks SXSW

Sarah Garrett and Ella Lilly

While the second week of SXSW is packed with live music, film, new technology, and business adventures, the first week of SXSW has its own lineup. Focused on the youth and how they’ll change the world, SXSW Education (SXSW EDU) allows administrators, teachers, and startups to collaborate and be exposed to ideas to take back to the classroom. 

Located at the Austin Convention Center, the SXSW EDU lineup this year consisted of mentor sessions, a student startup competition, and sessions led by speakers from around the world. An exposition open throughout the day showcases innovative technology and businesses that enrich students’ learning experiences while considering the issues, systemic and otherwise, the education system faces.

Senior Director of Education for Firia Labs Alexis Harry is one of the entrepreneurs who came to SXSW EDU to advertise their company. Firia Labs makes coding and engineering kits with the goal of educating students about coding in a fun way. 

“We wanted to get the name out there to get more brand recognition,” Harry said.  “We wanted to share our invention and educational style with the world. And we were originally supposed to come out here a couple of years ago, when, everyone knows, that nasty thing called corona stopped everyone from doing anything. So once they decided to open it back up, we still had our slot, so we just had to come out here and tell our story.”

Harry is not the only person who has been drawn to SXSW EDU after the pandemic. Hari Kunduru, the founder of Zoptiks, a company that specializes in virtual field trips and Zoom apps, attended SXSW EDU as a startup company. 

“This is one of the first bigger education conferences after COVID,” Kunduru said. “This is the place to be for any new tech startup in the education space.”

Similar to Kunduru, it was also Mitchell LeGrand’s first conference since the pandemic started. LeGrand and his partner, Yura Fora, work at H2O For Life, a nonprofit that educates students about the global water crisis. 

“It’s the first conference that we’ve been to since the pandemic started, we’re very excited about that,” LeGrand said. “We know that this is where teachers come for innovative ideas, cool ways to approach problems in their classrooms, and new resources for their classrooms, so we hope to talk to teachers and educators.” 

Greg Norwood came to SXSW EDU to learn about startup companies as well as attend lectures. Norwood enjoyed the opportunity to learn about higher education institutions. 

“I’ve been intentional about the opportunities that were present—I’m really looking at race, diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Norwood said. “I’ve also been having conversations around whiteness, and having a conversation around cancel culture and what that means and organizing what that means in youth engagement.”

Learning about new innovative programs and ideas to improve businesses is one of the main draws of SXSW EDU, according to Chief Technology Officer of Magma Math Ludvig Brisby Jeppsson. Jeppsson finds it easier to meet potential clients at events such as this one. 

Last year, during COVID, teachers and schools were very busy, and they have been working really, really hard to keep the education system going,” Jeppsson said.  “You don’t want to bother them in their daily work, so it can be really hard for a company to get in contact with schools and districts. It’s better to go to a conference and meet them here.”

Magma Math is a digital math platform for students in K-12. The company was founded in Sweden, expanded in Europe, and is now trying to make its way to America. 

“We just want to come to conferences to meet potential customers, partners, and investors,” Jeppsson said. “We try to figure out what we need to tweak or change in order to be successful in this market.”

SXSW EDU allows teachers, educators, customers, and entrepreneurs alike the opportunity to learn new things and teach others about their ideas. From math-based learning to robotics lessons, to virtual field trips, SXSW EDU can be the place for a number of new and innovative ideas.