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Sean Parker Talks the 'Oscars of Silicon Valley'

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Sean Parker and Jim Parsons at the 3rd Annual TechFellow Awards at SF MOMA.
Sean Parker and Jim Parsons at the 3rd Annual TechFellow Awards at SF MOMA.
Steve Jennings/Getty Images For Techfellows

Spotify's Sean Parker has learned a thing or two about teamwork since his days as Facebook's founding president and Napster's co-founder. For one thing, he knows now that people don't build bridges – teams do – and those bridges lead us into the future. Thus, for the third year running, Parker's Founders Fund has fueled the TechFellow Awards, a forward-thinking investment program in which the recipients' rewards are actually the opportunity to award funding to the "real winners" – selected startups.

Here's how it works: A selection committee awards 20 luminaries $100,000 grants to invest in startups of their choice. Past winners have invested in such promising enterprises as Flipboard and Quora, while last year's winners included Path CEO Dave Morin. The awards ceremony, which was held on Tuesday night at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco (SFMOMA), featured a speech by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and was hosted by Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory). With celebrities such as Goldie Hawn in attendance, the TechFellow Awards is trying to position itself as the Oscars of Silicon Valley.

"I just don't think there's been any forum in Silicon Valley to recognize the innovators behind the innovators," Parker told Rolling Stone after the ceremonies. "There's this huge number of innovative companies, that have touched literally billions of people, coming out of this area and unlike Hollywood films where there are all sorts of awards shows and credits roll at the end of the film .... there's been nothing like that in Silicon Valley, mysteriously. Despite the fact that the overall impact on the global economy generated by Silicon Valley companies is vastly greater than the economic impact of Hollywood. We know who the poster children are. We know who the faces are, the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Jeff Bezoses – but behind all of those CEOs, there are a huge number of people that are responsible for much of the innovation that these companies are known for."

As for what Parker is most known for these days – Spotify – the young entrepreneur says it's doing just fine, thank you. "It's going extremely well," he says. "The Facebook integration has been a huge success and it's been driving millions and millions of users. The monetization is going extremely well, in that the conversion rates have actually been increasing; more and more people are subscribing so that they can access their content on whatever mobile device they happen to carry. And that model of paying for portability and accessibility and convenience is actually proving itself, I think, to be the winning model in music."

And the winners of the 2011 TechFellow Awards are:
 
General Management
Joe Greenstein, founder and CEO of Flixster
Heather Harde, former CEO of TechCrunch
Andrew Siegel, SVP, Strategy and Corporate Development of Conde Nast
Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay
Victoria Ransom, founder & CEO of Wildfire Interactive

Disruptive Innovation
Diego Berdakin, co-founder and President of BeachMint
Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper
Leilah Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource
Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of CloudFlare
Perry Chen, co-founder and CEO of Kickstarter
Tom Preston-Werner, co-founder and CTO, Github

Product Design & Marketing
Craig Mod, former designer at Flipboard
Dustin Mierau, co-founder and Chief Designer of Path
Wilson Miner, designer at rdio
Dan Cederholm, co-founder of Dribbble
Joe Hewitt, former Product Manager (iPhone) at Facebook

Engineering Leadership
Ruchi Sanghvi, former Product Manager (NewsFeed) at Facebook
Amitt Mahajan, co-creator of MyMiniLife (Farmville)
Scott Marlette, former Product Manager (Photos) at Facebook
Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at Bit.ly
Brian Totty, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Groupon

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