Going (almost) all-virtual is a reality for Stamford Innovation Week

Christel Deskins

Turning this year’s Stamford Innovation Week into a nearly all-virtual event was, if not exactly a piece of cake, practically mandatory. The move for one of the state’s prime new technology showcases “really resonated with our audience,” said Jon Winkel, the founder and executive director of Stamford Innovation Week (SiW), […]

Turning this year’s Stamford Innovation Week into a nearly all-virtual event was, if not exactly a piece of cake, practically mandatory.

The move for one of the state’s prime new technology showcases “really resonated with our audience,” said Jon Winkel, the founder and executive director of Stamford Innovation Week (SiW), which runs Sept. 21-27. “You can’t just curl up and wait it out.”

From last year’s event.

While pushing the event to 2021 had been discussed, Winkel said that feedback from attendees of SiW’s weekly virtual L(a)unch webinars – featuring interviews and insights from various thought leaders each Thursday at noon – convinced them to move ahead.

“Given the huge challenges that everyone’s facing, there’s probably an even greater need for information and networking opportunities,” he said. “We thought it would be crazy, if not a little irresponsible, to not have it take place this year.”

The decision received unanimous approval from SiW’s board, Winkel continued. “It’s a safety thing, a readiness thing. Having it in person and trying to max it out would really be tone deaf. Our brand is energy and enthusiasm, and the idea of having events limited to 100 people who are 6 feet apart, wearing masks, just didn’t have the feeling of a sizzling event.”

Winkel said that registration to date has been in line with last year’s numbers – about 3,000 attended the 2019 edition – and that, if anything, sponsors and presenters are even more available than they have been in years past.

Thanks to Zoom and similar technologies – and, especially in the Covid era, nearly everyone’s familiarity with videoconferencing – “The lineup is even better this year,” Winkel said. “Instead of traveling from California or Canada, getting a place to stay, and going through all of that, they can just show up with a mic. There’s much less of a time commitment involved.”

Sixty speakers have been lined up so far, among them Adam Roseman, co-founder and CEO of web and mobile app Steady; Jimmy Tang, head of strategic planning at Twitch; Abhijit Shome, vice president, global digital marketing at Mastercard; John Emra, president, New England at AT&T; and representatives from the UConn School of Business, Columbia Business School, MIT Sloan, Morgan Stanley, Stamford Hospital, and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut.

While three of SiW’s keystone events – the advisory “Startup Weekend,” the entrepreneur-focused Werth Institute Series, and the all-encompassing Innovation & Tech Conference – will be virtual, the fourth – the Art & Music Festival – will still take place in Stamford Town Center’s parking garage.

But, as one can probably guess, with a difference.

“We wanted to do at least one thing in person that was safe and compliant with regulations about social distancing and all that,” Winkel said.

Thus will this year’s edition consist not only of the usual orb lights and glow sticks, but also of automobiles, whose owners will drive through a host of exhibits. Cars will be staggered to allow for distancing, and participants will not be allowed to exit their vehicles – although they can enjoy a socially-distant reception afterward.

Asked to identify some of the hot topics at this year’s SiW, Winkel cited Emra’s presentation on the short-term and long-term future of 5D technology; what’s new in the AI and AR spaces; autonomous vehicles; and medical procurement automation.

“There’s also going to be a lot about pivoting and planning – which is what it’s all about today,” he said.

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