Techweek Detroit 2014

by Peg Bogema

While this may be the first year for Techweek Detroit, it is not the first ever Techweek event. Piggy-backing on successful Techweek events in Chicago and elsewhere in the US, the Detroit event was held May 19-23. (www.techweek.com)

The purpose? In Techweek’s own words, “Techweek’s mission is to showcase, celebrate and enable emerging innovation ecosystems in the great cities of America.”

The claim? “See the new wave of innovation before the rest of the pack gets to. Meet the very innovators changing the game.” “Soak up all the tech know-how across our many stages, panels, curated conversations and Q&A sessions” from “technical experts, eminent founders and CEOs.”

And what does that translate into?

A number of meet-and-greets and parties for one thing. But the core was a two afternoon conference held at the former Federal Reserve building at 160 W. Fort Street in Downtown Detroit.

The Federal Reserve building was built in 1927. In 1951, an eight story glass and marble annex was added to the building. The original two-story structure, which is gutted, is where the Techweek conference was held.

At the center of the event was a competition for $50K in cash prizes for startup companies. The top prize was $40K of that—a substantial amount of money by any measure. The competitors exhibited their innovations on Thursday afternoon May, 22.

All throughout the afternoon on Thursday and Friday two stages featured seasoned tech innovators and start-up entrepreneurs offering advice and encouragement.

While I’m sure that many of the speakers were interesting and topical, my colleague Bob Hoffman and I spent most of our time mingling with the competing entrepreneurs.

Many of them were young—currently in college or fresh out.

And many of the innovations that they presented capitalized on the social media phenomena currently in vogue, mobile computing, or both.

Here are a few standouts.

Carbon Cash:
Working in partnership with Michigan State University, this start-up was able to demonstrably reduce energy use in dorms—and therefore energy costs and carbon footprint—by giving students incentives to minimize their energy usage. Incentives take the form of gift cards from companies like Starbucks and Amazon. But it was also found that bragging rights was an even more desirable reward. The proposed payment model is a share in the energy cost reduction, paid by the building owner. (www.carboncash.co)

Jam:
An iOS mobile application that lets a group of colocated music listeners collaborate on a playlist. It’s spinning discs on steroids. The music with the most votes rises to the top of the playlist. And, no, you cannot vote more than once. If you can imagine a club in which the patrons build out the playlist socially, you have the right idea. A jam host can offer anything on Spotify if he or she has a premium account. It has several proposed payment models, one of which is subscriptions for venues that will host jams of greater than a few guests. (www.letsj.am)

Seat Side Service:
An iOS or Android mobile application lets you order food and merchandise right from your seat at an event. Get it delivered right there, too. No waiting in line for a hotdog so no missing the key play. (www.seatsideservice.com)

Original Stix:
One of a few innovations that didn’t revolve around a mobile application or website. This company recycles game-used hockey sticks from college, minor and professional hockey games, using them to create unique smartphone cases. Assembly is performed by Disabled American Vets (DAV). (www.originalstix.com)

PhotoTwine, LLC:
Their application is called twineSTUDIO Photo Station. Imagine you were at a wedding or a school reunion. Like a photo booth of yesteryear, you and your friends could all pose in front of a camera at a booth and take your picture together. But unlike the old photo booth, you could also use a mobile app, called twineLIVE, to take pictures and upload them. Pictures from both sources form a gigantic collaborative photo album. And it is branded with the event. So if you are the event host, you can use a PhotoTwine application to count the number of impressions your event photos make on the Internet during and after an event. This very mature company, at the ripe old age of one year, is franchising its technology so event planners can offer it for a very reasonable rental fee. (www.twine.it)

So what did I take away from Techweek Detroit? Companies would be very smart to hire talented, young developers. They think differently about technology. Older companies would do very well to incorporate the young, socially conscious, and social-media savvy mindset. What younger developers might lack in experience they most certainly can make up for in ingenuity and freshness of perspective.

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