38 Great Moments From Fast Company’s First-Ever Innovation Festival

We turned 20 and decided to throw a party–look who showed up! (Hint: Serena Williams, Bill Nye, Big Bird, Angela Ahrendts, and many more!)

Over the course of five days last week, many of the brightest minds in technology, fashion, business, entertainment, sports, and science dropped their collective wisdom on the packed houses that flocked to the Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York.


Ranging from household names like Jared Leto, The Rock, Ari Emanuel, Gwyneth Paltrow, Serena Williams, Katie Couric, Cynthia Nixon, Kai Ryssdal, Aaron Levie, and Hilary Duff to an uncountable number of not-quite-as-famous superachievers, the stellar roster of speakers helped make this one of the largest media festivals ever put together.

Photo: Laurel Golio for Fast Company

There were plenty of memorable moments, like Erik Logan and Sheri Salata, co-presidents of the Oprah Winfrey Network, revealing that Warner Horizon Television will be producing OWN’s new TV series, Queen Sugar.

And there was Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts noting that although there isn’t much in Apple’s stores that’s sacrosanct, there’s no way anyone is touching the outlets’ famous tables. “Jony Ive designed that table,” Ahrendts told Fast Company editor Rick Tetzeli. “That table is iconic, that table will not change.”

No one on hand will forget Bill Nye The Science Guy and megastar DJ Steve Aoki penning a song–which they called “Noble Gas”–onstage, or Nye removing his signature bow-tie and putting it on Aoki.

Photo: Adriana C. Sánchez for Fast Company

While we’ve gotten used to the idea of Serena Williams dominating women’s professional tennis, likely few in the audience knew that the winner of 21 Grand Slam tournaments spent her time between matches at this year’s Australian Open taking pre-med courses, as she told Nike CEO Mark Parker and Fast Company’s editor-in-chief, Bob Safian. The entrepreneurial and business-savvy Williams also joked–or was she serious?–that her post-tennis career goal was rather lofty: “Mark and I are so close,” she said, “because I’m going to be [Nike’s] CEO.”

We learned from Sesame Street creative director Brown Johnson that the hit kids show will have less puppets in the future, and that over the course of its 45 seasons, the number of parents watching alongside their children has plummeted. In 1969, Johnson said, 73% of mothers were at home with their kids, while today that number is just 30%. “It’s a different audience” now, she said.

Photo: Laurel Golio for Fast Company
Instagram’s Eva ChenGif: Daniel Taroy for Fast Company

The future looks to be bringing big changes in many other fields, as well. According to Anne Wojcicki, CEO of DNA analyzer 23andMe, drugs could one day be tailored to work better by tracking the way we use drugs and better understanding different diseases’ genetics, as well as leveraging big data to help us be healthier. “We don’t know much about health…It’s crazy to me that in this world of electronic medical records, Walmart has so much information about how we shop, but no one has that information about our health,” Wojcicki said. “Why can’t my doctor say, ‘Wow, Anne, based on your lifestyle and behavior, you’re five years from being diabetic.’ But I can go to Target and they know exactly what I’m going to buy.”

There’s been much discussion recently about Hollywood’s pay gap between genders. But to Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon, maybe we shouldn’t worry as much about differences in salary, as we should about the lack of opportunity for women. “This is not something that concerns me so much, whether a person makes $10 million or $15 million for a film,” Nixon told Fast Company’s Jill Bernstein. “I’d be more concerned with roles: getting women behind the camera and getting people in the room deciding which films are made. Then the audiences get a picture of the world and everything a woman is and can be, not just the woman standing beside her husband and saying, ‘Great work.’”

Photo: Laurel Golio for Fast Company

One woman who is definitely availing herself of opportunity–even if it’s outside Tinseltown–is Gwenyth Paltrow. Onstage, she surprised a packed room by announcing the launch of her new book imprint, Goop Press. Paltrow said Goop Press will publish four books a year to start, with her next cookbook kicking things off. Creators and experts who have been featured on Goop’s website and in its newsletters over the years will write three other books a year.

And that, as they might say in Paltrow’s other line of work, is a wrap.

Related: Entrepreneurs and Celebrities Tell Us The Biggest Lessons They’ve Learned

About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.