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South By Southwest brings DC flavor

An inside look at D.C. area innovators showing their stuff at South By Southwest.

WASHINGTON — What do a philanthropic celebrity chef, former presidential speechwriter, burgeoning economic partnership and Air Jordan business partner have in common?

They all brought D.C. flavor to the South By Southwest festival this week in Austin, Texas.

WTOP caught up with presidential speechwriter Jon Favreau, superstar chef José Andrés, Michael Jordan’s business manager Estee Portnoy, and the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, as all four unique contributors shared their experiences with the creative world.


The Presidential Speechwriter

A former staffer on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid and later the speechwriter for President Obama for six years, Jon Favreau joined CNN pundit and former chief presidential campaign strategist David Axelrod for a live taping of “The Axe Files” podcast. For more than an hour, Favreau and Axelrod swapped stories and reminisced about their time together in Washington and the impact they both had on the 44th president’s administration.

Favreau insisted that politics is much more of a marathon than a sprint.

“Even a great president who believes strongly and represents everything you believe in isn’t going to fix everything,” Favreau said. “Politics is an everyday struggle. I’m often asked, ‘How long will it take to repair the damage caused by the Trump administration if we ultimately defeat him in 2020?’ Under a perfect world, I suppose we can all go back home, relive our lives and not worry about politics anymore, but it just doesn’t work that way.”

Does he have any hope for the future?

“If there is any silver lining to this crisis, it’s the fact that we are in the process of creating an understanding among young people that we’re in this for the long haul,” Favreau said.

Officially tagged as “Axe Files” episode No. 224, the podcast went live on Monday, March 12.


The Humanitarian Chef

Meanwhile, José Andrés, internationally-recognized culinary innovator, author, educator, TV personality and chef/owner of several prominent D.C. dining institutions, spent an hour with former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal veteran Kara Swisher, now the co-founder of Recode, and another hour on a panel entitled “Changing the World through Food.”

Through his action-based non-profit World Central Kitchen, Andrés is dedicated to providing smart solutions to hunger and poverty throughout the world by building “smart kitchens” and training personnel in Central America and the Caribbean, South America and Africa. He is now legendary for his relief activity in Puerto Rico where, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, his efforts delivered more than 3.5 million meals to 70 different locations throughout the island.

“My main interest for being here at South By Southwest is a discussion about coming up with a system to provide food for emergencies and setting up a program that allows Americans to take care of their fellow Americans after a disaster,” Andrés said. “We always know there’s going to be earthquakes in California; in a few months there will be more hurricanes and more tornadoes. It seems we are always reacting and not being proactive.”

What should we do going forward?

“We have to be prepared and have a clear set of guidelines before a catastrophe,” Andrés said. “My role here is to help spread the word that we should learn from our experiences and participate – in a bi-partisan way – to prepare in advance for when these situations arise so we can feed people after an emergency. What we saw in Puerto Rico should never happen again here in America.  That’s the message I’m looking to relate.”


Jordan’s Business Manager

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., Estee Portnoy oversees the day-to-day business and marketing activities for NBA legend Michael Jordan. In this role, she has worked extensively with the longtime Chicago Bulls star, who finished his career as a Washington Wizard, for more than two decades, managing and growing the Jordan brand and public persona.

She played a major role in Jordan’s deals with Nike, Gatorade, Upper Deck and others, facilitating strategy, promotions, licensing, media and ad campaigns after launching her career in support of Jordan’s role in the live-action animated sports comedy “Space Jam.”

At SXSW, Portnoy partnered with Asani Swann, vice president of business strategy for Carmelo Anthony’s Melo Enterprises, and Larry Miller, Nike’s Jordan brand president for a sports-focused panel entitled “Business Beyond the Ball.” Here, the speakers focused on their experiences along with the diverse opportunities available within the sports industry.

Among Portnoy’s most relevant accomplishments was the role she played in positioning Jordan as the world’s first pure celebrity endorsement athlete.

“One of things I loved about working with Michael is that he was authentic,” she said. “The secret to that success was making sure that we only supported projects that were meaningful and that really made sense for Michael. When we ventured outside of our comfort zone, it usually turned out to be not such a great idea. Ultimately, we probably turned down some very good opportunities, but in the end, we did the right thing for Michael … and his brand.”


The Public-Private Partnership

A six-year fixture in Austin designed to draw attention to Washington’s burgeoning start-up community, the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership once again hosted the WeDC House, which served as a showcase to all things innovation from our region.

“This year’s focus at SXSW is the message of inclusiveness and innovation within the nation’s capital,” said Keith Sellars, president and C.E.O. of the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership (WDCEP). “Our secret sauce this year is our ambassadors’ program. We have 10 companies – all local startups – who are helping us bring that message to the community, both those gathered here in Austin and back home in D.C.”

In addition to a dynamic party celebrating the best of DC-centric music, food and drink, the WeDC House presented two full days of diversity-focused programming, including sessions on female entrepreneurship, a “Black Girls Venture Pop Up and Pitch Competition,” the building of an LGBT inclusive workplace and a political playbook conversation led by Politico authors Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman.


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