Professional Development

Check out the Pittsburgh tech and education leaders at this year’s SXSW festival

There are plenty of events to attend at the first in-person SXSW since 2020, but you should know about these in particular, led by local educators, technologists and entrepreneurs.

Panelists inside the Amplify Philly House at the March 2019 SXSW.

(Courtesy photo)

Update: Mention of Gecko Robotics' SXSW participation has been added. (3/10/22, 12:20 p.m.)
It was one of the first major events to be canceled in March 2020 in response to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, South by Southwest (SXSW) is set to return in person in Austin, albeit at a smaller scale.

In pre-pandemic times, the 10-day festival was known for bringing together entertainers, technologists, education specialists and other innovators across a wide range of backgrounds to discuss the future of their industries. This year’s fest features a bunch of Pittsburgh tech leaders across panels and pitch competitions.

Below, see some of the highlights to catch from them if you’ll be in Texas for the festival — though some are available to stream, too.

Gecko Robotics

This local startup — which made big news at the start of this month with a $73 million Series C raise — will participate in the SXSW Startup Crawl on Friday, March 11, from 5 to 9 p.m. CST at the Capital Factory House. Described as one of the biggest parties at SXSW since 2011, the crawl is a great chance for entrepreneurs to meet each other, potential investors and future customers. If you’re in town, be sure to RSVP here.

Kit Mueller

RustBuilt Pittsburgh leader and Stronghold Digital Mining VP of Corporate Development Kit Mueller will participate on a panel on common uses of Web3 at SXSW, during the first full day of events hosted by one of the festival’s 2022 sponsors, Blockchain Creative Labs. The panel, called “Web3 For the Rest of Us,” will take place on Friday, Mar. 11 from noon to 12:45 p.m. CST and will also feature speakers from ZORA, EM.Co and Shareability. Though a description for the event hasn’t been released, the title and participants suggest that the discussion will center on more everyday uses and applications of blockchain technology in finance, entertainment and marketing.

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Tyler Samstag

Remake Learning Director Tyler Samstag will lead a brief discussion on “Moonshots: Bold Ideas for the Future of Learning” this afternoon from 2:30 p.m. to 2:50 p.m. CST as part of SXSW EDU, the festival’s international education conference. His talk will feature discussion of the 15 recipients of Remake Learning’s Moonshot Grants, which supported efforts to accelerate the future of learning in a post-pandemic world. For a glimpse at the future of Pittsburgh education, this talk is one to catch.

Dan Ding

Dan Ding, an associate professor and researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, will participate on a panel discussion on “The Technology Making Fitness More Accessible,” on Friday, Mar. 11 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CST. Ding, who also has appointments in Pitt’s Department of Bioengineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will discuss new tech making fitness more accessible to people of all abilities, including adaptive sports and wheelchairs designed for activities like hiking. Other panelists include representatives from Handi Capable Fitness, Livestrong and freelance journalist and disability rights activist Allison Wallis.

Aileen Owens

Aileen Owens, the director of technology and innovation for the South Fayette Township School District, will present on a panel this Wednesday, Mar. 9 from 5 to 6 p.m. CST that will discuss recent and forthcoming collaborations between the education and business sectors. Entitled “Reimagining Education in a Disrupted Economy,” the discussion will give specific focus to building computer science and STEAM programs and tech talent in Appalachia, which is in part funded through a PAsmart Advancing grant.

Lori Delale-O’Connor, Medina Jackson, Anneliese Martinez and Jason Orr

These four Pittsburgh education specialists will present together on Tuesday, Mar. 8 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on “Shifting Power in Educational R&D.” One of the only events at this year’s SXSW festival exclusively featuring speakers with Pittsburgh ties, Lori Delale-O’Connor, Medina Jackson, Anneliese Martinez and Jason Orr will get together to share experiences, curiosities and more around promoting innovation as Black and Latinx educators for Black and Latinx youth. As representatives from the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, Pitt’s P.R.I.D.E. program, the Andy Warhol Museum and the Propel Homestead Charter School, respectively, these education specialists will convene on how to make the world of academic research and development more diverse and equitable.

Patrick McKenna

One America Works founder Patrick McKenna will present in an in-person and online discussion on “Building Innovation Hubs Outside of Silicon Valley,” on Thursday, Mar. 10 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. CST. Though McKenna himself is no longer Pittsburgh-based, One America Works still maintains its headquarters here, and has helped grow and find talent for a number of Pittsburgh companies. Joining McKenna on the panel will be representatives from Tulsa Innovation Labs, PBS Newshour and the City of Miami.

Nadyli Nuñez

AscenderPGH Executive Director Nadyli Nuñez will not be presenting at SXSW, but served as a member of the pitch advisory board for the 2022 SXSW pitch competition. She and several others from corporations, accelerators and other tech community hubs across the globe came together to support the competition and the startups within it (such as DC-based cybersecurity company KeyCaliber, which will compete in the competition’s Enterprise and Smart Data category). Nuñez, who is known for her leadership in community-building and startup support and incubation, was the only representative from Pittsburgh on the advisory board.

Ivo Stivoric

Member of the senior leadership team at Google-founded X, the moonshot factory, Ivo Stivoric will serve as a judge in the 2022 SXSW pitch competition. Though the competition’s web page listed him as Pittsburgh-based, his LinkedIn profile puts him in the San Francisco Bay Area. Regardless of his current residence, Stivoric is a big name in Pittsburgh, as a Carnegie Mellon University grad who went on to cofound the Interaction Design Studio at the university’s old Institute for Complex Engineered Systems. Stivoric is also one of the cofounders of BodyMedia, a biometric tech startup that was acquired by Jawbone in 2013 for around $100 million. Stivoric led the Pittsburgh offices for Jawbone until he departed for his current role at X in 2015. He is the only representative from Pittsburgh on the judging panel, and will be tasked with evaluating the innovation and viability of each pitch.

To find even more speakers with Pittsburgh ties at this year’s SXSW festival, click here. And for more within the SXSW EDU schedule, click here.


Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Gecko Robotics, SXSW
People: Kit Mueller
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