Cynthia Erivo, Mark Mothersbaugh, Beatie Wolfe, Baratunde Thurston & More Join SXSW Online 2021

Introducing the first programming announcement for SXSW Online 2021, an exclusive digital experience packed with powerful presentations from some of the world’s most inspired thinkers and diverse visionaries from the ever-evolving worlds of tech, film, music, and beyond.

"Spanning numerous industries, the Featured Speakers in today’s announcement strongly reflect the programming themes that will underscore our upcoming event," said Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer. "As always, SXSW brings together the world’s most important thought leaders to address society’s most important challenges."

From creating postcards for democracy to combating climate change with aquaculture, the initial Conference lineup explores our 2021 Themes including A New Urgency – a look at how business, non-profit, government, science, and tech communities are tackling global crises and what advancements are needed to create immediate and lasting progress. Dive into programming across all seven themes with a stellar roster of Featured Sessions and Featured Speakers including Dominique Crenn, Cynthia Erivo, Cherie Hu, Wyclef Jean, David E. Kelley, Michael Lewis, Mark Mothersbaugh, Cat Packer, Nonny de la Peña, Maria Sharapova, Baratunde Thurston, Logan Ury, Amy Webb, Beatie Wolfe, Andrew Zimmern, and more.

For SXSW Online, we’re offering one pass that covers the entire event, allowing attendees to take in programming and connect with others across the many industries that SX serves. Register to attend SXSW Online 2021 from March 16-20 early to save!

Get to know the initial round of Featured Speakers and Featured Sessions below. Stay tuned for more big announcements in January including Conference Keynotes and Featured Speakers, sessions accepted from PanelPicker® speaking proposals, Film Festival screenings, Music Festival showcases, and more. SXSW Comedy Festival content will be announced as we get closer to the March event.

Featured Speakers

Amy Webb – Quantitative futurist, professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business and the Founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures. She is the best-selling, award-winning author of several books, including The Big Nine: how The Tech Titans And Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity and The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream. She serves as a technical, script and creative consultant for films and shows set in the future. All of her futures research, frameworks, and tools are open source and made freely available to the public.

Angela Benton – Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Streamlytics, a next generation data intelligence ecosystem which helps everyday people and companies ethically access consumer data streams. Prior to her role at Streamlytics, Angela Benton founded the first accelerator for minorities globally in 2011, NewME was acquired in December 2018. Benton has been featured on Goldman Sachs’ 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs; Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business and their Most Influential Women In Technology; Business Insiders’ 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology, and many more.

Angela Roseboro – As Chief Diversity Officer for Riot Games, Angela Roseboro develops and implements initiatives to drive inclusion and cultural growth. Roseboro manages all activity relating to diversity and inclusion (D&I) while also leading the recruiting team in driving inclusivity in Riot’s hiring and talent sourcing processes. Prior to joining Riot, Roseboro was the Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Dropbox. Previously she provided human resource guidance to Fortune 500 companies including T. Rowe Price, Jones Lang LaSalle, Genworth Financial, Whirlpool Corporation, and Manpower International.

Ann Hiatt – During her 15 years as the Executive Business Partner for Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon, and Eric Schmidt, CEO/Executive Chairman of Google, Ann Hiatt received her initial business training and now consults with executives and companies across the globe to reverse engineer their moonshot goals. Hiatt is an international speaker and her first book, Bet On Yourself, will be published by HarperCollins in 2021.

Baratunde Thurston – Emmy-nominated host Baratunde Thurston has worked for The Onion, produced for The Daily Show, advised the Obama White House, and wrote the New York Times bestseller How To Be Black. He’s the executive producer and host of two podcasts: How To Citizen with Baratunde and We’re Having A Moment which CNET called “the most important podcast of 2020.” He’s also the creator and host of the weekly pandemic show, Live On Lockdown. In 2019, he delivered what MSNBC’s Brian Williams called “one of the greatest TED talks of all time”. Right now, the writer, activist, and comedian is using his powerful voice to help people understand this revolutionary moment with his unique blend of insight, humor, and empathy.

Benjamin Hubert – Award-winning British design entrepreneur Benjamin Hubert is the founder of the creative agency, LAYER. LAYER is focused on experience-driven design for both the physical and digital worlds. Led by Hubert and a growing creative team, LAYER is partnering with forward-thinking brands – including Nike, Google, Bang and Olufsen, Samsung, Braun, Fritz Hansen and Vitra – to create products that will help define the way we live, work and communicate in the future, from A.I. to smart wearables and furniture systems, to the next generation of media devices and mobile communication tools.

Bruce Mau – A brilliantly creative optimist, Bruce Mau's love of thorny problems led him to create a methodology for whole-system change. A serial entrepreneur since the age of 9, he became an international figure with the publication of his landmark S,M,L,XL, co-authored with Rem Koolhaas. He is the author of Massive Change and MC24. He is cofounder and CEO of Massive Change Network and Bruce Mau Studio, based in Chicago, and Chief Design Officer for Freeman.

Bryony Cole – Since launching the top-rated podcast, Future of Sex, Cole has been on stages across the world, defining the direction of sextech for governments, technology and entertainment companies. In 2020, she launched Sextech School, the first and only program empowering entrepreneurs in the pursuit of breakthrough sexual innovations in technology.

Cathy O'Neil – Having earned a Ph.D. in math from Harvard and postdoc at the MIT math department, Cathy O’Neil was a professor at Barnard College where she published a number of research papers in arithmetic algebraic geometry. After switching over to the private sector for the hedge fund D.E. Shaw and RiskMetrics, she then left finance in 2011 to work as a data scientist in the New York start-up scene, building models that predicted people’s purchases and clicks. She wrote Doing Data Science in 2013 and launched the Lede Program in Data Journalism at Columbia in 2014. O'Neil is a regular contributor to Bloomberg View and author of Weapons of Math Destruction. She recently founded ORCAA, an algorithmic auditing company.

Cat Packer – Within her role as the first Executive Director and General Manager of the Department of Cannabis Regulation, Cat Packer leads the licensing and regulation of commercial cannabis activity within the City of Los Angeles and manages the implementation of the City’s cannabis related policies and programs. Packer previously served as California Policy Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, where she worked to ensure the successful and equitable implementation of various cannabis policy reforms, as well as the Campaign Coordinator for Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, a social justice-centered campaign in support of the 2016 Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

Cherie Hu – Cherie Hu is the founder and publisher of Water & Music, a newsletter about music-industry innovation that reaches over 10,000 subscribers. She has written hundreds of articles on music, tech and finance for the likes of Billboard, Forbes, NPR Music, and Pitchfork. Hu currently teaches a course on music and gaming as an adjunct professor at NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music.

Dr. Michael Watkins – Michael Watkins is the Director of Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), NASA's lead center for robotic exploration of the solar system, including such legendary missions as Voyager, Cassini, and the Mars Curiosity rover, as well as the upcoming Mars Perseverance rover, Europa Clipper, and more. Watkins also serves as a Vice President of the California Institute of Technology, which staffs and manages JPL for NASA. He has led major science and engineering teams for JPL for 25 years.

Jim McKelvey – Cofounder of Square Jim McKelvey is a serial entrepreneur, glassblower, philanthropist, and Independent Director of the St. Louis Fed. McKelvey is also a master glass artist and author, having written the world’s most widely read text on the subject, The Art Of Fire. His industrial design work is part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and The Smithsonian in Washington DC. His glass studio, Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis, is one of the main US hubs for the glassblowing arts. He is also the founder of LaunchCode, a nonprofit making it possible for anyone to learn programming and land a full-time job in under six months, for free. McKelvey's newest venture, Invisibly, is working to give people control of their online identities.

Joost van Dreunen – An academic and entrepreneur with an expertise in video games, Joost van Dreunen teaches at the NYU Stern School of Business. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of SuperData Research, a games market research firm, which he sold to Nielsen in 2018. He is an advisor and investor, author of One Up, and and writes a weekly newsletter on gaming, tech, and entertainment called SuperJoost Playlist.

Logan Ury – Behavioral scientist turned dating coach Logan Ury is an internationally recognized expert on modern love. As the Director of Relationship Science at the dating app Hinge, Ury leads a research team dedicated to helping people find love. After studying psychology at Harvard, she ran Google’s behavioral science team—the Irrational Lab. She recently published her first book, How To Not Die Alone.

Michael LewisNew York Times bestselling author Michael Lewis' most recent works are The Fifth Risk, The Undoing Project, Flash Boys, and The Big Short. The Blind Side, published in 2006, tells the story of Michael Oher, a poor, illiterate African-American kid living on the streets of Memphis whose life is transformed after he is adopted by white Evangelical Christians. Before that he wrote Moneyball, a book ostensibly about baseball but also about the way markets value people. Both of his books about sports became movies, nominated for Academy Awards, as did his book about the 2008 financial crisis, The Big Short. His other works include Boomerang, The New New Thing, Coach, Losers, and Liar’s Poker.

Steve DeAngelo – A globally recognized cannabis leader, Steve DeAngelo was dubbed “the father of the legal industry” by former Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown. As a lifelong activist, author, educator, investor, and entrepreneur, he has spent more than four decades on the front lines of the cannabis reform movement. His most notable business achievements include cofounding Harborside, one of the first six dispensaries licensed in the US, a publicly-traded company on the Canadian Securities Exchange with five dispensary locations in California including one of the first to feature a drive-thru; Steep Hill Laboratory, the first cannabis analytics company; and Arcview Group, the first dedicated cannabis investment network.

Featured Sessions

AI and Great Power Competition – President Xi Jinping claims China will be the AI world leader by 2025. Russian President Vladimir Putin says whatever country leads in AI will be the ruler of the world. Google’s former Chairman Eric Schmidt warned there is a digital Berlin Wall being erected. The link between AI and great power competition will set the stage for the rest of this century. How will the private and public sector in western democracies work together to survive and thrive? More importantly, how can we create technologies that are authentic to our values? Join experts at the intersection of AI and national security who are on the frontlines of this fight – Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman and CEO of Pryon Igor Jablokov. Gain insights on AI advancements and explore what role you can play in this challenge.

Aquaculture, Food Systems and Climate Change – Food is simply the biggest lever we have to combat climate change and improve the health and wellbeing of the planet’s growing population. Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic animals and plants, is vital as the planet’s fastest growing food production system. Seafood is one of the healthiest proteins to consume and one of the most efficient and sustainable to produce. Done well, aquaculture can be a powerful force for ecological and social good. The moderated panel of experts will discuss aquaculture’s key role. Join award-winning ocean activist Alexandra Cousteau; four-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality and chef Andrew Zimmern; multi award-winning writer and producer David E. Kelley; and organic seaweed farmer and entrepreneur Sarah Redmond to explore the context of the global climate crisis and aquaculture’s key role in transforming our food systems.

Can VR Create Real Change? – VR has gotten quite a reputation for creating impact. But does the hype really add up? We are at a pivotal moment in history, with socio-political division at an all-time high and less than a decade left to prevent climate crisis. Could creating virtual realities actually help move us towards a better tomorrow? Join AR/VR producer and director Fifer Garbesi; award-winning immersive artist and professor Gabo Arora; Director of EarthXR Tiffany Kieran; and founder of Emblematic Group Nonny de la Peña as they dig into the impacts of this medium, putting real change and direct action front and center.

Driving Action & Advocacy Through Online Community – Online communities are not new; but as the world has adapted to 2020, these digital spaces have proven their worth in a whole new way. Reddit has witnessed this first hand, as more people have joined its many thousands of communities for connection, distraction, and belonging in a time of unprecedented disconnection. While IRL experiences continue to evolve in unexpected ways, the communities on Reddit remain a constant source of conversation and companionship, as well as a valuable lens from which to examine human psychology, behavior, and sentiment. Join Reddit’s COO Jen Wong and CNN’s Kerry Flynn for a conversation about why online communities were made for this moment, their role in the digital ecosystem, and the value they bring to brands looking to build real connection, advocacy, and drive action.

How to Scale a Mission-Driven Brand – Join Supergoop! CEO and Founder Holly Thaggard and her early-stage investor, world-class tennis champion and entrepreneur Maria Sharapova, for an inspiring conversation sharing insights on how Thaggard scaled her company from a mission to end the skin cancer epidemic to a business with millions in revenue, all while innovating a category and changing consumer behavior. Hear from Sharapova first-hand about how she identified a promising investment opportunity in a young, but high-growth brand with an authentic mission as its north star, and advice for other emerging entrepreneurs prioritizing mission and doing good.

Inside GENIUS: ARETHA, the Story of the Queen of Soul – National Geographic's GENIUS is an Emmy-winning anthology series that dramatizes the fascinating stories of the world’s most brilliant innovators, exploring their extraordinary achievements along with their volatile, passionate, and complex personal relationships. The third season will explore Aretha Franklin’s musical genius, incomparable career and the immeasurable impact and lasting influence she has had on music and culture around the world. She will be portrayed by Oscar-nominated Cynthia Erivo (Harriet, The Color Purple) and Emmy-winning Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) will play Aretha’s father, C.L. Franklin. Our acclaimed panelists including GENIUS: ARETHA executive producer and director Anthony Hemingway; multi award-winning producer and author Brian Grazer, multi award-winning actress and singer Cynthia Erivo; Broadway and television costume designer Jennifer Bryan; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks will explore the craft and care that goes into honoring her legacy and bringing her story to life.

The New Marketplace of Music Royalties – The Music Modernization Act takes effect this year, mechanical streaming royalty rates are on the rise, and the newly formed MLC, along with BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, SoundExchange and others, is tracking music royalties using new technologies. These changes are empowering creatives and independent artists, especially in the wake of Covid-19. As music royalty rights grow in value, what do royalty holders need to know in order to maximize and leverage their royalty assets? This panel of global thought leaders will help royalty owners, managers and advisors make informed decisions regarding the potential value and versatility of royalty copyrights and licenses. Join Founder and CEO of Sound Royalties Alex Heiche; CMO of The Mechanical Licensing Collective Ellen Truley; entertainment lawyer Robert A. Celetsin, and Grammy award-winning musician and actor Wyclef Jean for a discussion on the democratization of the music industry is underway as the expansion of digital streaming transforms the landscape of music royalties.

Postcards for Democracy: A Collective Art Demo – Artistic visionaries DEVO cofounder Mark Mothersbaugh and self-proclaimed "musical weirdo" Beatie Wolfe share a love of tangible artforms, in and amongst their futuristic explorations. In light of the threat to our 225yr old postal service, at a time that could jeopardize the democracy of the country, Mothersbaugh and Wolfe joined forces for this collective postcard art demonstration. The aim of this campaign is to encourage as many people as possible to support USPS (if we don't use it we'll lose it!), our right to vote, and democracy as a whole via the power of art.

What is Taste? – Without taste, the experience of eating would be a routine and joyless chore. Taste is an almost magical part of our individual experience because everyone’s perceptions and preferences are so unique; but what IS taste, really, and what informs it? It is so much more than a chemical reaction on our taste buds. Taste is made up of shifting cultural norms, food science and technology, and the art of cooking, of bringing a dish to life through careful preparation and the right ingredients. And by better understanding how all of these elements work together, you can develop an even deeper appreciation for your favorite food experiences. Cofounder of So Vegan Ben Pook, three-Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, CEO of Motif FoodWorks Jonathan McIntyre, Ph.D, author and scientist of senses and emotion Rachel Herz, Ph.D. will discuss how culture, science, and technology shape one of the most important aspects of our lives.

$149 SXSW Online Passes Nearly Sold Out

Register for SXSW Online 2021

From March 16-20, experience Conference sessions and Keynotes, music showcases, film screenings, world-class networking, online exhibitions, and the unexpected discoveries that are always a part of SXSW, all in a digital setting.

Groups of 10 or more can save big with Group Registration rates. Currently enrolled students may also apply to purchase a SXSW Online Pass at a special discounted rate.

Stay in the SX know – subscribe to our email lists and read SXSW News for announcements, event updates, programming features, and more throughout the season.

Register Now

Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest SX coverage.

Featured Image of 2021 Featured Speakers: (l-r) Cynthia Erivo; Mark Mothersbaugh and Beatie Wolfe; Baratunde Thurston; and Dominique Crenn – Photo by Amanda Demme.

By Jordan Roberts