At SexTechLab: “So how do you come with that?”
Published 23 May 2017 by Nicolas Barrial
France’s first sex hackathon took place on May 19-21. Even if its main sponsor was the market leader of the French porn industry, the event was rather demure.
Following in the footsteps of fashion tech, education tech and civic tech, now is the time for sex tech! Some 60 developers, designers, makers and growth hackers came together on May 19-21 at 42, a coding school in Paris, for SexTechLab, France’s first sex hackathon with the tantalizing slogan “50 hours to innovate in pleasure”. 69 hackathoners signed up, including 20 from 42. The average age was 25 and notably gender-balanced.
Marc Dorcel, heavyweight sponsor
A surprise speaker opened the program on May 19—Grégory Dorcel, son of Marc Dorcel and CEO of the eponymous brand leader of France’s pornography industry, which became the event’s main sponsor just a few days before it launched, above more conventional hackathon partners (Viva Technology, Futur en Seine, Dagoma 3D printers). For the company that made its fortune as early as 1979 in the golden age of VHS, prospered in the age of the Web, and embraced virtual reality in 2015, SexTechLab was the opportunity to announce the launch of Dorcel Lab, a “global incubator for start-ups with nerve,” according to Grégory Dorcel. Moreover, a project from SexTechLab will be the first one incubated.
Porn with heart
Later on Friday, participants made their pitches, short presentations of 25 projects, of which 10 were selected. The most maker-oriented were Flextoy, a modular sextoy to personalize the object (size and pluggable accessories), Cup+, a connected menstrual cup, Heart Sensation, a sex toy “as a service” that vibrates in sync with your partner’s heartbeat.
Among the online services were Tumamm, a website to “find a guy for my mother,” according to the project leader, and Porn it Yourself, an online platform that aspires to be the “Airbnb of porn film,” as comically presented by the infamous producer who chats his way into parties to film the revelers.
In terms of sex guides, there were French Youtuber Clemity Jane’s project to offer advice on buying and selling sex toys, the XYStories platform to share “X-rated stories by Generation Y”, and the chatbot Ali(x), a conversational robot specialized in sexuality.
Sex toys, the iPhones of sex
As sex toys represent 22 of the estimated 30 billion dollars of the global sex market, it wasn’t surprising to find them in about half of the projects, which teams had until Sunday 4:30pm to prepare.
To support the participants, no less than 20 mentors were present, including the founder of the lesbian encounters website La garçonne and the founder of the libertine website Gentle. The mentorship was further supplemented by short lectures, such as that of innovation strategies consultant Olivier Ezratty, on “the emotional value of connected objects.” It made all the more sense with sex toys!
Not everyone spent the weekend prototyping. Some already had their audience, such as XYStories and Clemity Jane with her 54,000 Youtube subscribers, who were more in search of a viable business model. Others created their prototype on site, such as Heart Sensation, based on the Apple Watch’s ability to capture heartbeats. Meanwhile, Ali(x) was roadmapping the tests for an artificial intelligence in a minefield—teenagers and sex! Team Cup+, after considering the unverified safety of electronic waves inside a vagina, turned their attention to pacemakers.
By Sunday at 4:30pm, everyone had something to present to the nine jury members, which included Marie Réveilhac, founder of Dans ma culotte (“in my panties”), and Marc Pointel, author of the website Le roi de la capote (“king of condoms”). Some, like the presenter of Heart Sensation, went as far as jumping on the cord to increase the sex toy vibrations of his imaginary partner.
Le proof of concept de la corde à sauter ? Non, activer les pulsations cardiaques rendues dans le #sextoy porté par le partenaire. #sextechlab #ecole42
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It was an opportunity for the dean of the jury, sexologist Jacques Waynberg, to make baby boomer jokes with generations X, Y and Z: “So how do you come with that?” and “That’s a factory for premature ejaculations.” Nevertheless, the tone of the hackathon was rather demure, as various speakers felt a responsibility toward youths exposed to free porn sites.
And the sexy winners are…
Finally, it was the most “sexually educational” project that won first prize: Ali(x), the chatbot friend by Sarah Lecoffre. Second and third prizes went respectively to the Tumamm seniors and the Can U mobile application. Marc Dorcel (logically) awarded his own prize to Porn it Yourself, the most adapted to incubation at Dorcel Lab.