Editor’s Note: Joseph A. Boylan is executive director of Wilkes-Barre Connect, the Entrepreneurial and Economic Development arm of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber. He recently attended the Boston Innovation Festival. The three-day experience brought together six events — including the industry-acclaimed FEI: Front End of Innovation conference — and hundreds of innovators to the Seaport World Trade Center. Below are edited highlights from the journal Boylan kept during the festival.
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After months of telling every single person willing to listen to me about the Boston Innovation Festival, it’s finally here.
The thrill of being asked to participate back in November 2018, finally wore off in time for me to focus on my presentation the past two months. I was asked to present in the Enterprise Design Thinking Summit portion of the festival.
And just when I had the confidence I needed to feel like I deserved to be on the stage – FEI released a marketing piece on the Enterprise Design Thinking Summit, promoting a one-day summit “featuring some of the leading minds in design and innovation” and that fear came right back.
I would share the track stage with some of the most innovative and successful thought leaders in the US – including Jamin Hegeman, VP Design of Capital One, Lisa Marchese, COO of WITKOFF, Oen Michael Hammonds, Design Principal of IBM, and Henry Chesbrough, Faculty Director of the UC-Berkeley-Haas School of Business.
However, once again, the fear subsided, and the past two weeks I worked day and night on my presentation that would introduce the world to Wilkes-Barre Connect.
But lo and behold, that fear bubbled up once again on my drive to Boston when Ram Katamaraja — Founder of Colaberry and SOLVER at Solve-MIT — messaged me that he is fascinated with my work and was looking forward to my presentation.
But after arriving in Boston on Monday night — and settling in with a pint of Guinness from the famous Black Rose — I finally was able to relax, breathe, and transform that nervous energy into the confidence I needed to represent NEPA this week at the Conference.
Connect belongs on this stage. It is time to tell our story. And there is no better place to launch then at the Boston Innovation Festival.
I arrived super early to check out the space, specifically where I was going to speak on Thursday. It provided me with a great opportunity to mentally prepare for my presentation.
Arriving early also provided me with the opportunity to get some one-on-one experiences with some of the exhibitors.
My biggest takeaway, outside of their impressive portfolio, was their focus on recruiting startup teams to conceptualize and launch the new and innovative ideas generated from the process.
Next stop was bitsurf, where I had the opportunity to meet with Tracey Dodenhoff, their CEO, and good friend of Julie Anixter. Bitsurf tranforms your pipeline of emails, attachments and other content into a manageable, automated play list, allowing you the opportunity to watch, listen, comment on, favorite and share content through media platforms.
Tracey and I exchanged information to discuss a potential partnership with Connect. My first win of the day.
Eventually it was time for the main stage for the conference welcome and first of several featured speakers.
I had two main takeaways from the morning session – one bit of technology and one part motivational. On the technology side, the presenter used Slido – an app which allowed for real-time feedback from the audience. It was an amazing component to integrate into a usually straight-forward power point presentation. The motivational bit really hit me hard.
Shawn Nason, CEO & Chief Ecosystem Disruptor of the Nason Group, delivered this line as his welcome: “never be okay with mild salsa.”
At its surface, it sounds ridiculous, but when placed in the context of his presentation, it resonated tremendously – not just personally, but with what we are trying to do with Wilkes-Barre Connect.
Nason went on to describe how as innovators you should never be okay with mild salsa, but to find the hot salsa or “fire”…always find your fire or passion. Such a simple statement, with a powerful message.
The remainder of the day was essentially divided into two components for me personally: track sessions and networking. Both provided significant opportunities to understand the existing innovate processes and platforms that can provide true value to Wilkes-Barre Connect and Northeastern Pennsylvania.
For 15 minutes at a time, I was able to pitch Northeastern Pennsylvania and Wilkes-Barre Connect as an up-and-coming innovation hub. Collectively, the conference was worth every second of that collective 1:15.
There’s definitely a buzz in the air this morning as Steve Wozniak will take the stage at 9 a.m.
The co-founder of Apple not only delivered the main presentation of the day titled “Who Runs the World? Humans,” but also participated in an executive panel debate discussing a bold vision for tomorrow’s innovation agenda.
The other panelists include Lisa Skeete Tatum, Founder & CEO of Landit, Leland Maschmeyer, Chief Creative Officer of Chobani, and Ivy Ross, VP, Design for Hardware Products at Google. One heck of a group to start the day.
Spent the morning finishing my Dunkin’ over a conversation with Richard Miller – a social innovation thought leader who just happens to reside in Tunkhannock. It took a conference in Boston to finally get us together for a chat.
We talked about some of the incredible work Richard has done, and the need to form a partnership with Wilkes-Barre Connect.
Before we knew it, the music blasts from the speakers. It’s Steve Wozniak time. And Steve didn’t disappoint. His talk was so personable – I was blown away, along with the rest of the audience. He wasn’t shy in describing how introverted he was as a high schooler, or his early days at HP, or his interesting relationship with Steve Jobs.
He didn’t hold back. Steve implored the audience to “follow the truth” and described his desire from an early age to “be a part of a revolution someday.”
He stressed the importance of having team dialogue, not meetings with predetermined outcomes.
And on a personal level, I loved hearing Steve talk about his infatuation with chasing down Bob Dylan artifacts and just his overall sense of humor, noting “Luck is the greatest superpower there is.”
The panel that followed – once again featuring Wozniak – was just as good.
But for me – the best part of the panel happened once it was over.
I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Ivy Ross – VP, Design for Hardware Products at Google – for about 10 minutes. The experience was incredible. Being provided time and space to have an interactive discussion with Google about the innovation that is occurring in Wilkes-Barre is insane. There I was, describing to a Google VP about the THINK Center and our recent partnership with the USPS. I will never forget those 10 minutes.
The morning kicked off with several keynotes, including Mike Hatrick, Group Director IP Strategy for Volvo Group Trucks Technology, Jack Morgan, the Design Lead for Duolingo, and Henry Chesbrough, Faculty Director for the UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business.
Each offered unique insight from their perspectives, but quite honestly, my focus was on going over my presentation one more time.
One great interaction from this morning was being able to spend a few minutes more with Shawn Nason, CEO & Chief Ecosystem Disruptor for the Nason Group – and also MC of the festival.
As you may remember, I quoted Shawn earlier in the journal with his anti-mild salsa campaign.
I was able to bend his ear on the troubles we’ve had in Northeast PA, changing the culture and perception of the region, and how Wilkes-Barre Connect has dedicated tremendous amounts of time and resources to changing that through process.
I talked about our push to become a true innovation leader and the support and energy we’ve received from entrepreneurs and students to make that happen. Shawn was complimentary and loved our focus, inspiring me to not give up until our community finds “their hot salsa.”
Before I know it, the Enterprise Design Thinking Summit is ready to kick off.
And now the time has arrived for me to take the stage — it’s go time. I’m actually not feeling nervous, probably because I’ve gone numb. But there’s no time to be scared, this is what I came here to do — represent Northeastern Pennsylvania.
My half hour presentation was a blur – it raced by in a time frame which felt more like 30 seconds.
My goal was to tell a story, sharing the transformation of our organization and region.
I wanted to be authentic and motivational, describing a process that can be replicated in any type of business – no matter the size or industry.
I presented on the importance of focusing on user outcomes – in our case our members. I was able to present in front of a great crowd, including some of new “Boston friends” that I made during the week, including Alex James from Addapptation and Zohaib Gulzar from FUJIFILM.
And I was even approached from attendees requesting a meeting to discuss Connect even further – including Christina Gerakiteys, CEO at SingularityU in Australia. And with that, the conference has come to a close. I can’t begin to even describe the value derived from just a few days in Boston.
Whether it’s launching a partnership with MIT Solve, or integrating bitsurf into our NEPA Regional Entrepreneurial Ecosystem, I’m bringing home knowledge and relationships to share and help uplift our entire region.
More importantly, I’m already confirmed to come back next year.
Joseph A. Boylan, executive director of Wilkes-Barre Connect, is seen with Ivy Ross, Google’s vice president of design for Hardware Products, during the Front End of Innovation conference at the Boston Innovation Festival.