SXSW 2019: Driving the Venture Capital Narrative

by Kristina Serafim

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference brings together nearly 80,000 people from industries centered on technology, film and music in Austin, Texas for two weeks every year with the goal of collaboration and innovation. This year, fellow Director of Verizon Ventures, Jeffrey Black, and I spoke on three panels about the evolving technologies of connected devices, artificial intelligence (AI) and transportation within the venture capital ecosystem.

Connected World 2025 — How Can You Plug In Now?

In today’s world, advanced analytics, integrated applications and emerging 5G network capacities are making it easier to connect anything anywhere. While we’re still in the early days of the connected revolution, during this panel we first defined “the connected world” as an ecosystem where data is shared across both consumer and industrial connected devices, enabling a more efficient and autonomous connected world. Diving deeper, I elaborated that the adoption of connected devices will increase primarily through the development of internet of things (IoT) with technologies that enable easier and cheaper sensor deployment, secure data collection, data management and analysis, edge computing and autonomous decisionmaking. For this reason, I urged the IoT entrepreneurs in the audience to focus on: 1) areas where the deployment of connected devices is more feasible and, 2) value-added services, most of which are addressed through utilizing data and predictive analytics to make better decisions.

VCs Reality Check for AI Hype

During this panel, we discussed how AI is depicted in the media with hyped stories about how AI is killing jobs and self-driving cars are causing accidents. However, in reality, we are still quite early on in the adoption curve of AI. One of the main adoption challenges of AI is that it heavily relies on access to data, which is not always easy to obtain due to privacy laws and regulations, among other concerns. For this reason, Verizon Ventures focuses on AI startups that can integrate with Verizon’s efforts, which enables them to utilize Verizon data sets at the macro level to help drive micro level results.

Verizon Ventures primarily looks at “narrow” AI, which performs one narrow task, as opposed to artificial general intelligence, or AGI, which seeks to perform any intellectual task that a human can do. My advice to entrepreneurs was to clearly define your AI capabilities and if you don’t have true AI core technology, do not include it in your pitch deck simply to add the buzzword. Verizon Ventures’ investment in The Hive is a good example of AI deployment. The Hive is a Palo Alto-based co-creation studio that incubates and accelerates startups working solely on applications and use cases that use data science technology and AI.

The Trillion Dollar Mobility Bet

On this panel, Jeff Black spoke about how new technologies in automation and ride sharing are creating new mobility markets and commercial opportunities that were unimaginable 10 years ago. This new reality is forcing traditional, established transportation companies to evolve to keep up with challengers who are pushing the innovation envelope. Jeff elaborated on how mobility technology is blending transportation across sectors. There used to be stratification based on the asset type. There used to be separated limousine, taxi and rental car companies, but now one company can provide you anything from a scooter to a full-sized SUV. Essentially the barriers separating the types of transportation options you have are gone. In the audience was Colin Roche, CEO of portfolio company, Swiftmile, which is developing unattended autonomous solar-powered charge systems for shared light electric vehicles.

Overall, our panels fit in nicely with the overall conference theme, which took shape as connected reality. While Verizon Ventures discussed 5G’s role in the connected world, AI’s future use cases, and how technology is transforming the way we move, a number of other talks focused on similar themes in healthcare, blockchain and, most importantly, how we navigate the vastly changing technology landscape with social good in mind.