(As many of you know, I also started Innovation Nights 5 years ago. In this time more than 600 new products have been launched at our Boston region events and we are currently expanding into other cities. It is in this role that I write here today.)
Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the UP Summit in Las Vegas (100 degrees but it is a “dry heat”.) The gathering of 550+ startup community leaders billed itself as the largest such gathering in the world. In my role as one of the Startup Massachusetts advisers, I had previously attended the Startup America summits in Colorado and Chicago, and I have been looking forward to getting back in the game with this event, and checking out what has been going for startups on in Las Vegas. It was also a good time for me to consider some changes and additions to the Innovation Nights model.
First off, hats off to Zappos for the role they are playing in Vegas. What happens in Vegas startups and entrepreneurs shouldn’t stay in Vegas. In addition to the ecstatic corporate culture inside Zappos, Tony Hsieh and team seem to have built an oasis in the desert for startups, investing in Container Park, party buses and other accoutrements of a more established startup scene. And people, there is an investment in people. I met a pop up book store owner running a JIT book printing machine at the theater who had been transplanted from NY. I am reminded of our own Desh Deshpande’s work in Merrimack Valley although Hsieh probably doesn’t have to compete for talent with the likes of Kendall Square just minutes away. I took a Zappos headquarters (formerly City Hall) tour from Erika “The Culture Equestrian” one afternoon (and bought size 14 high tops for the Tall One).
The UP Summit participants wandered the downtown area of Las Vegas where Hsieh has focused his efforts, rarely venturing forth to the touristy strip just up the road. We visited Container Park, had lunch at nearby restaurants (all uniformly good and diverse in offering), held sessions at the Learning Village, presentations at the Ignite Theater, breakfast and early morning sessions at the Golden Spike, and partied with Google for Entrepreneurs at the Downtown Grand pool one night. I have family in Vegas who at first couldn’t figure out why I was staying at “that” end of town. Picking me up for an impromptu quick visit, they were surprised to learn about all the changes taking place in their own backyard.
While Vegas-in-the-midst-of-transforming provided a grizzled but evolving backdrop, the main attraction was the sessions and the “hallway” chats. Using EventJoy to manage my schedule, I went to sessions such as corporate involvement in startup communities; measuring program impact; and cohesion and collaboration in your startup community. Sponsors like Coca-cola asked participants to provide feedback on what they need, other than the usual: money, product, mentors. I met entrepreneurial supporters and startup champions from Australia, Montana, Iowa, Palestine, the UK and so many more.
I was even able to present the Innovation Nights concept at an Ignite event on Saturday afternoon. Imagine my surprise when I realized that Brady Forrest, the “dad of Ignite” was sharing the stage. And, wonder of wonders, wearing a Bradley watch from Eone Timepieces, a Mass Innovation Nights alumni.
The September UP Summit is scheduled for Boston. I hope we can do as well as Vegas.