A Colorado tech-fest marathon
on’t bother calling anyone at the Colorado Technology Association this weekend; they’ll probably be sleeping. Running a virtual techno-marathon, the CTA staff this week staged its 13th Annual APEX Awards-Conference-Challenge.
In a two-day non-stop extravaganza, the association:
- honored seven individuals, three companies and one government agency at a black-tie dinner;
- proffered several keynote speeches by tech industry notables;
- moderated five panel discussions on topics ranging from big data to cloud security;
- hosted an exhibition that featured nearly 60 tech companies;
- sponsored a “startup challenge,” in which 10 nascent enterprises spat out rapid-fire pitches for $20,000 in prize money;
- and bravely hosted an open bar happy hour for hundreds of thirsty tech junkies to close the whole thing out.
It was enough to wear out even the staunchest local tech enthusiasts. But if you made it even half-way through, you were rewarded with some of the most stimulating insights the Colorado tech community has to offer.
You’ll find more detailed RockyMountaintechline.com coverage of the APEX tech fest in the days to come. But for now, here’s an abbreviated review of the major highlights.
APEX AWARDS: THE BEST OF COLORADO TECH
At a dinner Tuesday night attended by 850, CTA announced the winners of the annual APEX awards, honoring technology excellence, leadership and innovation in Colorado. Arjun Gupta, Chief Believer of special situations venture capital firm TeleSoft Partners was the keynote speaker. The award winners:
- Technology Startup of the Year: Cloud Elements
- Customer Service Company of the Year: Connect First
- Technology Entrepreneur of the Year: Peter Hudson, CEO, iTriage
- Technology Advocates of the Year: State Rep. Angela Williams, State Sen. Mark Scheffel
- Technology Teacher of the Year: Scott Schankweiler, Science Teacher, Mountain Range High School, Adams 12 District
- Technology Community Connector of the Year: Jim Franklin, CEO SendGrid
- Technology Project of the Year: Office of Information Technology, State of Colorado
- Woman in Technology of the Year: Michele Hovet, Deputy City Manager, Former Arvada CIO
- Technology Company of the Year: Ping Identity
- Bob Newman Lifetime Achievement Award: Dan Caruso, Co-Founder & CEO Zayo Group
APEX CONFERENCE: ISSUES & ANSWERS
The conference portion of APEX 2013, held Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver, featured keynote speaker Jack Dangermond, President of Esri, four panel discussions, and a number of cameo speakers. Here’s a quick roundup of highlights.
Keynote: Jack Dangermond, President of Esri. Dangermond extolled the virtues of geographic information systems technology and how it can play a role in long-term planning for the world’s future. Mapping and spatial analytics, he said, can change the way we see and measure things and “provide a practical means for transforming our world.” GIS technology, he said, is moving into the cloud and will soon become easy to use for anyone – anytime and anywhere. Dangermond’s company, which specializes in GIS technology, is the world’s sixth largest privately held software company.
Panel: Run Your Enterprise Like a Startup. Four veteran entrepreneurs focused on the question of how companies can sustain innovation in their operations. Nick Coppolo, Director of Product Development for SpireMedia, warned that bigger companies can become preoccupied with sustaining their current success, at the expense of innovating for the future. Chris Poelma, CEO of QwikCart, said “if you don’t innovate, you die.” His advice? Identify pockets of opportunity and use internal teams to address them. Tom Munro, CEO of Photobucket, said his company fell behind after being acquired by News Corp. in 2007 because the firm became too focused on process and structure. They forgot about innovation, he said. Mike Stemple, CEO of GhostGear, said the key to success is to think passionately about innovation constantly.
Panel: Big Data and Analytics. Four executives agreed the big problem with big data is deciding what it is. The consensus? Big data is regular data – just more of it. All agreed, however, that new tools to handle large amounts of data can yield valuable new insights. Chris VanWagoner, Chief Strategy Officer for CommVault, said to make use of big data, you must understand who will use it and how. Andy Sautins, CTO of ReturnPath, said the real advantage of big data tools is time: big data technology can crunch in a half-hour what used to take 24 hours. Eddie Satterly, Chief Big Data Evangelist for Splunk, said effective use of big data requires a “champion” to push its value. He also said companies need to get past departmental politics that can lead to hoarding of data. Peter Hudson, CEO of iTriage, said organizations have thrown away a lot of valuable data simply because they did not have the capacity to keep it. Now those organizations have an opportunity to put it to good use.
Panel: Cloud Security. The four executives on this panel addressed concerns about personal and institutional safety and security in an increasingly cloud-based computing environment. James Brown, CEO of StillSecure, pointed out that there are many more digital perimeters that must be protected when operating in the cloud. Rick Dakin, CEO of CoalFire, said we must adopt a safety mentality when dealing in the cloud. As Americans, he said, we tend to assume someone is “taking care of us” and that security intrusions simply won’t happen to us. Suddenly, we realize there is no one protecting us behind the curtain. The realization that so much data about us is available is downright “creepy,” he said. Jack Sepple, Global Managing Director at Accenture, said increased security is the next step in a maturing process for cloud computing. Michael Locatis, CEO of Nexusist, added that press reports of government agencies developing “cozy” relationships with major U.S. cloud players has caused increased concern overseas.
Panel: State of the State. This panel focused on the future of Colorado as a major technology center. J.B. Holston, Chairman of the Board of NewsGator and moderator of the session, pointed to the state’s recent industry successes and asked what we need to do to sustain the momentum. Scott Gessler, Colorado’s Secretary of State, believes one of the keys to success is attracting top-shelf talent. For Kristin Russell, the state’s Secretary of Technology and CIO, cutting red tape and attracting more medium and large tech companies to the state are crucial. Nancy Phillips, CEO of ViaWest, said we must promote Colorado as a place that offers long-term career opportunities to attract talented executives and engineers. And Bruce Dines, who works for the Technology Investing arm of Liberty Global, lamented that only 25-30 companies in Colorado generate more than $100 million. The state must attract more middle and large companies, he said.
APEX CHALLENGE: KING OF THE STARTUPS
Following the conference proper, CTA sponsored a faceoff among 10 area startup companies competing for $20,000 in prize money. Each company got 4.5 minutes to make its case to a panel of celebrity judges and an audience of hundreds of tech fans.
One by one, the pitchmen rattled off rapid-fire spiels as a giant digital clock behind them counted down the seconds. After each pitch, the hawker stood by patiently for a critique by four judges – ex-Bronco kicker David Treadwell, ex-Nuggets guard Bill Hanzlik, Vista Ventures General Partner Catherine Merigold and Access Venture Partners Managing Director Brian Wallace.
To make things still more nerve-wracking, the audience was invited to vote on each performance via a mobile phone app. The results of that voting would ultimately factor into the final decision of the judges.
And the top three winners were … (drum roll here) …
- First place ($15,000): Rach.io, a Denver startup offering digital technology to simplify complex sprinkler systems.
- Second Place ($2,500): Nanoly Bioscience, a group developing a way to preserve vaccines without refrigeration.
- Third Place: ($2,500): Brandfolder, offering a centralized database for logos and brand information.