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A Techfest for the rest of us

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF TECHFESTNW - Techies will gather once again as part of TechFestNW, set for this weekend at OMSI.

If MusicfestNW is the cool-ish, gray-haired skateboarder who has seen it all, TechFestNW is its Warby Parker-rocking little cousin who wants to be a new kind of disruptor.

The festival, which is held at OMSI this Friday and Saturday and is put on by Willamette Week, is bringing in more out-of-town speakers to inspire and inform Portlanders about bleeding edge technology.

Mark Zusman, Editor of Willamette Week, says after last year’s event they asked attendees what worked and what else they wanted.

“They wanted more national speakers and less local — people they knew they couldn’t just pick up the phone and talk to any time.”

So the marquee names this year are:

  • Former Wall Street Journal tech reporter Kara Swisher whose RE/CODE news site tracks Silicon Valley money and ideas. Her talk is called The Day the Internet Becomes Invisible: The Next Age in Computing will be all about Feelings, not Technology
  • Oregon Senator Ron Wyden talking about American Innovation and your Privacy in a Digital World
  • Sce Pike, a Managing Partner at Citizen, talks about The Internet of Things: The Next Bubble
  • And Steve Adler, Director of Mobile Technology of the National Football League, on Mobilizing the NFL: The Fourth Quarter Drive to Score with the NFL Mobile App and Lessons from the Coaches’ Notes
  • Attendees also wanted more networking opportunities, so this year they will be fed and coffeed between sessions, and have two parties to attend on Friday, one at OMSI and a later one at Pure Space in the Pearl District.

    Does that sound a bit like employees bending over backwards to recruit tech workers with perks like free food, back rubs and Pilates balls?

    “We are clear who our audience is, we want it to work,” says Zusman. “If they want more networking time, at least we have a sense of what we need to do.”

    OMSI’s lobby will have fun demos by Ryan Grepper, the Coolest Cooler guy whose Kickstarter could well cross the $10 million mark during the event. Other demos include 3D printers and a Bitcoin ATM.

    Speakers were not asked to bring new material, but Zusman says he believes most will.

    “Intentionally it’s a very Catholic repertoire. Our attempt is to get the beat speakers on the planet and make sure we touch on the hot topics like 3D printing, drones and wearables.”

    In an age where most thought leaders’ thoughts trickle out on Twitter and are available on YouTube, attendees are clearly looking for some whites-of-the-eyes connectivity.

    This is particularly true for startups seeking funding. Also new this year, venture capitalists will be hearing pitches from 10 local startups.

    “A lot of them hear it’s a good place to invest but they don’t know where to begin, “ says Zusman.

    TechfestNW ends on Saturday afternoon so attendees can attend MusicfestNW, which is a way bigger (30,000 attendees) and more national affair. Organizers hope for overlap and synergy.

    “This is the first year we’re having a talent fair (job fair) because tech companies said they are having trouble finding qualified people. The hope is say, someone from San Francisco who is sick of the housing costs falls in love with Portland and thinks, ‘There’s 20 companies I can work for up here, not just one.’ ”