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Latin America at SXSWi & Future Technology Events in Latin America

Submitted by on March 19, 2011 – 7:20 pm2 Comments

With over 15,000 participants this year, South by Soutwest Interactive (SXSWi) is probably the world’s largest event geared toward social media, technology, and gaming. In fact, it has grown so quickly over the past few years that many are now asking: “Has South by Southwest Interactive Gotten Too Big?” Even Adolf Hitler himself seems distraught that pervasive corporate sponsorship has soured the festival’s entrepreneurial, grassroots beginnings.

One difference between this year’s festival and previous years that hasn’t received as much attention: it was less parochial. SXSWi has traditionally focused on recent technology developments in the USA with only a sprinkling of Web 2.0 startups from Western Europe. This year, however, there was an entire track dedicated to technology entrepreneurs from Latin America.

IMAG0080 300x179César Salazar is the founder and CEO of Yondify, a crowdfunding platform for non-profits; and Tikkia, a social network and job board for Mexican IT professionals. Salazar has also been a critical bridge between the venture capital community in Silicon Valley and the technology startup community in Mexico. He has managed to put together a fund from Silicon Valley investors to support Mexican technology entrepreneurs. Dubbed “the Silicon Valley Seed Fund for Mexican Startups,” they are currently accepting applications for $20,000 – $40,000 of initial investment in exchange for 10% – 20% equity stake. They also offer, according to the FAQ, “professional and legal services to make sure you can focus on what is really important – your product.”

Another Mexican social entrepreneur at SXSWi was Clorinda Romo of Pase Usted and Genera. Pase Usted was formally incorporated at the end of 2008 by a group of young Mexico City-based activists that, following the model of TED, wanted to join the power of social media with live events to “transform Mexico through ideas.” In addition to online discussions and regular live events, last year Pase Usted launched Genera, a technology incubator for projects that aim to improve the quality of life in Mexico City. They received dozens of applications, but only ten projects were selected to participate in the 10-week bootcamp which included an $8,500 stipend and weekly workshops with experts in design, marketing, law, and business development. At the end of the ten weeks each of the project teams presented their projects to a live audience, including local investors. One such project is Rutanet, which aims to make Mexico’s trucking industry more efficient by cutting down on the number of empty big rigs (40% of all trucks on the highways) that travel in Mexico. Their iPhone app is available in iTunes.

Many attendees at SXSWi were surprised to learn that reCAPTCHA – one of the most prominent and successful applications on the internet – was developed by a Guatemalan programmer, Luis Von Ahn.

Luis joined fellow Guatemalan programmer and Artificial Intelligence professor, Javier Gramajo López, to give a talk with the intriguing title, “Web 3.0 and Human Computation: Ancient Mayan Legacy.” Gramajo notes in his presentation that Guatemala claims at least 25 Mayan languages in addition to the official Spanish. But most government officials and professionals in Guatemala City do not speak any Mayan languages, and are more likely to learn English as a second language. Luis Von Ahn is now working on another project, Duolingo, that could help promote more multilingualism around the world. It aims to allow users to learn a language while simultaneously translating the web. “Language differences remain a barrier for the global sharing of knowledge, and computers cannot process human language accurately. The more you learn at Duolingo, the more knowledge you make accessible to the world.”

The panel “Cashing Out: Startup Successes in Latin America” highlighted OnSwipe from Colombia; ClanDescuento.com, which was bought out by Groupon for $10 million; and Atakama Labs, a Chilean social gaming company. Audio from the presentation is available on the SXSW website.

Other Latin America-focused talks and panels at SXSWi include:

Audio from the majority of the talks is available by clicking on the links above. Spanish speakers might also enjoy Fernando Labastida’s roundup of all things Latin America at SXSW on his Latin IT Marketing blog. Labastida was one of the individuals responsible for working with the conference organizers to ensure more Latin American participation at this year’s festival. In his blog post he reports that conference organizers considered the Latin America track of panels a success and that he hopes to continue the strong regional presence in the future.

Future Technology Events in Latin America

A few Latin American technology entrepreneurs have complained to me about the United States’ unfair visa application process, and their perception that North American investors and marketers are trying to dictate the growth of Latin America’s technology sector. For those who were unable or unwilling to attend SXSWi this year, do not fear, there are plenty of other upcoming events focused on technology, entrepreneurialism, and social change in the coming months.

Campamento Digital | Monterrey, Mexico | April 1 – 3

Monterrey, Mexico will play host to the first ever Campamento Digital, which will focus on mobiile technologies for social change and citizen security. Today, in fact, is the last day to register. You can follow the conference proceedings via their official Twitter account, @cambiomovil, or the hashtag #CD11.

International Seminar on Technology and Citizen Participation | Guadalajara, Mexico | April 4 – 6

Mexico’s chapter of the UNDP and Jalisco’s Institute for Elections and Citizen Participation will co-host a three-day international seminar looking at the role of technology in election monitoring, the political representation of women, electoral transparency, budget accountability, and citizen participation.

The Second World Summit of Political Communication | Quito, Ecuador | April 13 – 15

Also focused on governance and politics, the World Summit of Political Communication will bring 50 international speakers to Ecuador to discuss topics such as:

  • Digital media and political journalism
  • Leadership 2.0
  • Open Government
  • Cyber-citizens and new voters
  • Social media in political communication
  • How to design online campaigns

LibreBus Central America | May 3 – 15

Probably the most unorthodox of technology and social activism events in Latin America this year, LibreBus is an initiative led by Renata Avila of Creative Commons Guatemala and Carolina Flores Hine, a leader in Central America’s free software movement. You can read more about the genesis of the project in English at Michelle Thorne’s blog. The journey will begin in San José, Costa Rica on May 3rd with a workshop about copyright and Creative Commons and will end in Antigua, Guatemala on May 15th with a series of cultural activities. Along the way, the bus full of programmers, artists, activists, and free culture enthusiasts will give workshops in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador about access to knowledge, free software, freedom of expression, and the freedom to share. A website will soon be available at LibreBus.org.

Campus Party | Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile | Throughout the Year

Campuspartymexico

Finally, it is impossible to discuss technology and social activism in Latin America without mentioning Campus Party, the most prominent series of technology conferences in the region, or as they describe themselves without a veil of modesty, “the world’s most important Internet event.”

Campus Party began in Spain in 1997, but has since expanded to Latin America with major annual week-long events that attract thousands of participants in Sao Paulo, Bogotá, and Mexico City. To better understand the energy and ideology that keeps Campus Party moving forward, I recommend Global Voices’ coverage of last year’s Campus Party Brazil and Colombia events.

This year Campus Party Colombia will take place from June 27 – July 3 and Campus Party Mexico from July 18 – 24. They are also adding two new countries to the Campus Party network with events in Ecuador this October and Chile in December.

The founders of Campus Party say that they have learned a lot over the past 15 years. Their initial unbridled enthusiasm for all things Internet has been tempered by a rise in online censorship, online hate speech, and cybercrime. This year they have launched the #SomethingBetter campaign which seeks to leverage Campus Party’s international network of programmers, activists, and technology providers to, put is simply, do “something better.” There are plans for a “Geeks Without Borders” and advocacy campaigns to raise more awareness about treating the internet with a rights-based perspective.

Tell us what we’ve missed!

As always, you can find up-to-date information about events related to technology and social activism on our calendar page. Surely we have missed some events – please let us know what else is happening this year in Latin America by leaving a comment below.

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