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Jacksonville's Tech Coast Conference Planted a Stake in the Ground

Jacksonville's Tech Coast Conference Planted a Stake in the Ground

While organizers of the Tech Coast Conference were thrilled that about 800 people attended the event Aug. 17 in Jacksonville, they’re assessing the real impact the conference had on the local technology industry beyond the numbers and say it’s basically planted a stake in the ground.

Read Full Article Here: By Drew Dixon, Friday, August 26, 2016, The Florida Times-Union

“We’ve got a long way to go,” JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis said of Jacksonville’s place in the technology industry. “… Technology is at the forefront of [most] industries.

“We’re here and we’re serious and we want to see those industries grow and we want to provide opportunities for those industries,” Davis said of the purpose of the conference.

Davis said the tangible impact of that conference wasn’t just that it drew the largest crowd in its three-year history, it’s the kind of crowd that came.

Most notably, the attendees at the conference held at the Prime Osborn Convention Center downtown were diverse in terms of business interests, ranging from startup operations to veteran corporate executives, Davis said. The age range was equally diverse, bringing in millennials and advanced career chief technology officers.

Mike Nolan, president of the chamber’s Information Technology Council, headed up the organization of the Tech Coast Conference. While he said turnout and interaction were better than he expected this year, establishing connections between businesses — mostly local — was likely the top achievement.

“We had a lot of feedback where technology providers mentioned that they established a lot of dialogue with other technology providers — not necessarily competitors, but companies that want to start dialogue with prospective companies for different reasons,” Nolan said.

In essence, the Tech Coast Conference is starting to tighten the web of technology firms in Jacksonville that had no real outlet for local connections previously, Nolan said.

“Folks become very familiar with what we do very well and perhaps what we don’t do,” Nolan said.

In addition, Nolan said the IT Council managed to iron out a few mistakes in previous conferences, such as hosting vendor and exhibit booths within the same hall as guest speakers at the convention center. Nolan acknowledged that was distracting in the first two annual events and separating the vendor booths into separate areas of the convention center was more practical this year, less distracting to attendees and actually fostered better interaction among those attending.

“I think we’re gaining recognition,” Nolan said. “It’s one of the few opportunities where, as a [business] community, Jacksonville technology gets together under one roof. A lot can happen because of that.

“I think a tell-tale sign is that there were many attendees last week, this was their third consecutive year of attending. There were many vendors where this was the third consecutive year of attending. That tells me that the community is not looking at this as a one-and-done event,” Nolan said.

There were some attendees and vendors who came from around the region, most notably a vendor from Tampa. But most were local, and Nolan said his group is looking at possibly extending its reach into national influence, though he acknowledged complete plans are far from being finalized for 2017.

Meanwhile, an immediate impact is that Davis has already established a planned Cyber Security Conference set for Nov. 30 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown. Davis said it’s a direct spin-off of the Tech Coast Conference and will focus directly on technology security issues, tactics and approaches.

Davis credited Nolan for providing the inspiration for the Cyber Security Conference and noted the Tech Coast Conference has put a stamp of seriousness on the tech industry in Jacksonville that is ultimately about business rather than a festival such as One Spark, which has been held every April in downtown since 2013.

Davis said the One Spark crowdfunding festival has been important to developing Jacksonville’s entrepreneurial identity — a cultural event welcomed each spring. But the Tech Coast Conference is adding to Jacksonville’s technology industry evolution.

“Business is a serious game. There’s a place for the creative mind but there is also a space for the nuts and bolts for getting things accomplished in the technology industry,” Daniels said. “We’re going to capitalize on that. Honestly, I think it [Tech Coast Conference] is serious. This is a serious issue for us to continue growing jobs in this arena and I think we’re doing that.”

Expanding the reach and building upon the serious tone of the conference is likely to be best served by bringing more attendees from other markets to the 2017 event, Nolan said.

“I think that might be the biggest opportunity for improvement we have — the marketing of the event,” Nolan said, adding that may take more time. “I don’t know that we’re sophisticated enough at this juncture to measure how effective our marketing is. … We take it seriously and we’re looking for improvement from year to year.”

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