Another year, another pilgrimage of San Antonio technology-driven entrepreneurs and social media practitioners to South by Southwest’s Interactive (SXSW) festival. Activities begin Friday in Austin, where hundreds of presentations, meetups, networking sessions, panel discussions and more will delve into what’s new in tech.

San Antonian Melanie Mendez-Gonzales, owner and creator of the blog ¿Que Means What?, will be on a panel to address, “How Latina Moms Are Raising NextGen Coders.”

“I was encouraged by SXSW to pitch a presentation idea about being a Latina blogger,” Mendez-Gonzales explained. “At first I didn’t have any idea what I would be pitching, but I talked with some friends about being part of a conversation around Latinos and technology.”

Melanie Mendez-Gonzales, owner/creator of the blog ¿Que Means What?, will be in a South by Southwest panel discussion about Latinos and technology.
Melanie Mendez-Gonzales, owner/creator of the blog ¿Que Means What?, will be on a South by Southwest panel addressing Latinos and technology. Courtesy Photo.

Mendez-Gonzales said as a mother she feels it’s her responsibility to ensure her children develop skills such as coding that will prepare them for the world of tomorrow. She hopes to encourage Latino parents and their children to develop a stronger interest in tech education early on.

“There is a need for diversity in technology, in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics fields) and in general,” she said. “I want our kids to have these skills and a stronger sense of identity.”

San Antonio fledgling’s Café Commerce will have a prime spot at SXSW Interactive. It’s a one-stop shop based at the San Antonio Central Library supporting entrepreneurs and startups seeking information, resources, market data, and guidance to launch and maintain their venture. Café Commerce offers a variety of specialized programs that help further startups such as Break Fast and Launch and 1 Million Cups.

Local technology media relations consultant and journalist Alan Weinkrantz, will interview Café Commerce President Peter French in the session, “When New Businesses Hatch at the Public Library,” on Monday at 11 a.m.

“We thought we were doing something innovative. The audience for Café Commerce is more diverse than the typical startup program,” French said.

“What we’ll be doing (at SXSW Interactive) is have a conversation about a transformation using (the library), a democratization of entrepreneurship,” Weinkrantz said.

Café Commerce President Peter French talks about Break Fast and Launch, a Café Commerce program that helps culinary startups. French and Break Fast and Launch director Ryan Salts will speak about their experiences in local entrepreneurship at South by Southwest. File photo.
Café Commerce President Peter French talks about Break Fast and Launch, a Café Commerce program that helps culinary startups. French and Break Fast and Launch director Ryan Salts will speak about their experiences in local entrepreneurship at South by Southwest. File photo.

“We’re non-dogmatic here. The tagline is ‘for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs,’” French said. Weinkrantz echoed French’s sentiments that a public library is an ideal place for something like Café Commerce — open, creative, and inviting to everybody. Weinkrantz often travels to Israel to consult with tech firms and other startups there.

“One of the places I hang out is the Tel Aviv library startup hub. Their purpose is slightly different than Café Commerce as it has collocation space,” Weinkrantz said. “But their programming is purposeful. No matter if it’s Tel Aviv, Austin, Boston, everyone says those cities love technology, but being here in San Antonio, I’m most inspired.”

Break Fast and Launch will be the focus of another South by Southwest Interactive at 9:30 a.m. on Monday. Launched last year, the nationally recognized program tries to bridge the gap between one’s zeal for consistently serving customers a quality meal and ensuring things run smoothly behind the scenes in a culinary venture.

David Solis, cofounder of Bake Broil and Brew, talks about his culinary incubator at the local 1 Million Cups chapter. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Café Commerce President Peter French talks about the new culinary accelerator, Break Fast and Launch, during a recent 1 Million Cups meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“We’re teaching entrepreneurs the elements for a successful restaurant or other culinary business,” said Break Fast and Launch director Ryan Salts.

Salts and his associates have seen their share of trials and tribulations with Break Fast and Launch, and are still evolving, based upon lessons learned.

“We’d love for this program to branch out to other cities, but first we have to make sure it’s something useable in another city, and that it works for that city and its culinary entrepreneurs,” Salts said.

Julie Hoshizaki, professor and game development program coordinator at Northwest Vista College, will be on a panel Friday, “Gaming Pioneers,” where she and veteran programmers from Intellivision will reunite. They will talk about their experiences programming video games for Mattel Electronics in the early 1980s.

“Computers seemed like a very fun toy to me so I took a class at the local community college before deciding to change my major,” recalled California native Hoshizaki. “I also had to do this secretly as everyone thought it would be too hard.”

After earning a computer science degree, Hoshizaki went straight to work for Mattel, where she spent two years until the video game industry crashed and Mattel closed. But during Intellivision’s existence as a division of Mattel, Hoshizaki and her colleagues – known colloquially in the public as “the Blue Sky Rangers” – churned out notable video games such as “Thin Ice.” The game involved a mischievous penguin who would skate holes around other penguins on a frozen lake to dunk them (see top image).

Many of the Intellivision games are now available for several contemporary computers and game platforms.

“As an educator, I enjoy nurturing the creativity in people and seeing what they can dream and produce,” Hoshizaki said.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio) will chat with Sony Pictures Television President Steve Mosko in “The Future of Viewing,” about how programmers are rethinking their approach to content creation and acquisition as their global audience evolves.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio will talk the future of television and film content development at South by Southwest. Courtesy photo.
U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro of San Antonio will talk about the future of television and film content development at South by Southwest. Courtesy photo.

San Antonio companies such as The Social Being: Meetings and Media Firm will send employees to SXSW Interactive.

According to founder and CEO Veronica Morales, she and her colleagues will attend sessions, meet-ups, and the trade show apart from one another. Afterwards, they will trade notes and come up with ways to apply those lessons and networking/business opportunities.

Local startup HelpSocial will be part of the SXSW Interactive Startup Spotlight event. CEO and co-founder Matt Wilbanks described HelpSocial as a platform capable of scaling social customer service across an enterprise. This, in turn, helps reduce stress placed upon social marketing teams.

“Many brands want to transition the customer service piece of social to the contact center and we’re uniquely capable of integrating into existing tools across a business, making that transition easier,” he said.

Wilbanks and his colleagues started out as social media team members at Rackspace, and built an internal tool to aid with support. That tool became HelpSocial and received funding from the local Geekdom Fund and from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

He acknowledged that while SXSW Interactive has grown over the last few years, some companies that previously had a large presence have scaled back because of participation rates.

“That said, it’s still a great event for networking and spending time with customers and partners and great business definitely comes out of those interactions,” Wilbanks said. “We did a soft-launch of HelpSocial at SXSW last year and the response was tremendous.”

Steven Quintanilla learned lessons from his previous local startup, Kirpeep, and how he and his associates tried to promote it at SXSWi two years ago. Kirpeep’s mission was to maximize the potential of exchange by enabling users to buy, sell, and trade services or goods with or without money. Alas, the marketplace did not support it’s demand and Kirpeep is no more.

“We created a solution without an identified problem. That’s a bad thing in the startup world,” said Quintanilla, who now leads a new local startup, SpaceCadet. Quintanilla and his associates have developed an online storage marketplace to match people with vacant space with people seeking to store things in a safe, fast, and efficient manner. This includes entrepreneurs who require short-term space to test out their ideas while growing their startup.

“Now we’re making sure we’re focused on the problem and that we have a niche,” said Quintanilla, who is also a partner with Tailgate Bistro, one of a handful of local food trucks that will be serving SXSW Interactive attendees. The truck will also be used to help promote SpaceCadet, with an eye toward transactions to generate short-term capital growth for each business. SpaceCadet was used to identify available space – 7th and Trinity streets – where Tailgate Bistro will be available throughout SXSW.

“We’re promoting our brands on both fronts. That’s what it’s about,” Quintanilla said.

*Featured/top image: Julie Hoshizaki, professor and game development program coordinator at Northwest Vista College, will reunite with fellow former video game programmers from Mattel/Intellivision at South by Southwest. Here she can be seen in a satirical video from her time with Intellivision in the early 1980s. She programmed the game “Thin Ice” about a mischievous penguin. Courtesy image. 

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.