At any conference, it’s easy to go through the motions of the experience because you know exactly what to expect—name tags, networking, panels, pitches, clapping, networking again, meanwhile adjusting your seating position to accommodate for uncomfortable blazers/pantsuits/dresses and trying not to drop your stack of business cards.
That’s exactly the kind of robotic experience Mark Bavisotto wants to disassemble and reshape in his own conference, next week’s inaugural Startup Grind Triangle Technology Conference.
Bavisotto, who leads the Triangle chapter of the national Startup Grind, says the conference is designed to be laid back. T-shirts and jeans are not only welcome, they’re encouraged.
“People in their most comfortable state are more likely to open up and be the best human they can be,” he says. “That’s what we are always striving for.”
The lineup spotlights notable entrepreneurs from local companies like Phononic, Precision Hawk and Automated Insights, and investors from Cofounders Capital, Full Tilt Capital and Good Growth Capital. National reps are sprinkled in as well, from Priceline.com, Sling TV, and others.
The competitors are Gastro Girl, a virtual health coaching platform that moved to Wilmington from Virginia, New York’s CentSai, a financial education site geared toward Millennials and Gen X-ers, Cary-based Protopia, a digital networking and advising platform, Raleigh’s Forage.ai, a fast self-checkout tool for retailers, and Greenville, South Carolina-based BandwagonFanClub, a peer-to-peer ticket marketplace for college sports fans.
The conference doesn’t have a theme like others might, and that complements the concept of giving attendees a fresh take on specific topics.
Part of that vision is pricing and education, two key areas Bavisotto believes other local conferences often miss. The Startup Grind Conference offers cost-effective pricing for startups—tickets are $50 for early-stage entrepreneurs.
There’s also a $120 VIP package including a happy hour with the speakers and sponsors, plus an event with Cal Fussman, bestselling author, speaker and writer for Esquire, where he runs the “What I’ve Learned” interview series with prominent cultural figures.
Bavisotto aims for the day’s panels and talks to provide actionable education with execution.
“We want every entrepreneur no matter what stage to have a chance to learn what it takes to be successful,” he says. “When starting a company, the numbers are always against you, but if you can understand how success repeats itself, you have a chance to make something great.”
The conference was somewhat of a business decision for Startup Grind’s Triangle chapter, which has spent two years building an audience for its monthly meetup events. Bavisotto wanted to take the chapter to the next level, and that meant designing a conference that would serve to capture and retain attendees’ interest with fresh content.
The planning process started five months ago. Because of the short time span, Bavisotto naturally contacted the entrepreneurs and investors he had a personal relationship with. Along the way, though, the lineup began to miss out on an important element—diversity.
Bavisotto says he’d planned to have a more diverse pool, but some people couldn’t commit based on prior obligations. The result is a lineup of mostly white and male founders and investors, by a significant margin. Such was hashed out in a Twitter thread recently.
Bavisotto says he takes full responsibility for any backlash: “I know how important it is to have a lineup from different races, genders and backgrounds because this helps create empathy within our society,” he says. “It’s my responsibility as a leader in this community to do a better job of bringing everyone together.”
Bavisotto also adds he’s committed to make diversity a priority for future events.
Though he hasn’t thought much about the long term vision for the conference, Bavisotto believes it’ll be a tradition to continue, likely leaning towards an annual event. He says he’ll know more once he studies the data on this conference.
Regardless, he believes this year’s event will be valuable for the 250 to 300 attendees anticipated to attend.
Here’s what to expect if you’re thinking about buying a ticket:
Opening the conference will be David Gardner, serial entrepreneur and general partner of Cofounders Capital in Cary. He’ll introduce the event with a talk surrounding “The Future of Technology in North Carolina.”
Then, the agenda is broken up into several panels covering a mix of subjects.
- “The Secrets To Building a Winning Culture” with MedFusion Founder Steve Malik and Phononic CEO Tony Atti.
- “Blockchain as the Next Generation Internet” with Fast Med Founder Jason Williams and Anthony Pompliano of Full Tilt Capital.
- “The Future of Entrepreneurship” with serial entrepreneur Jeff Homan, of Priceline.com, uBid and ColorJar.
- “Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace” with Advanced Animal Diagnostics CEO Joy Drach, K. Coaching CEO Krista Moore and Good Growth Capital’s Amy Salzhauer.
- “How Security and Privacy Will Affect the Future of IoT” with K4Connect’s Scott Moody and PrecisionHawk CEO Michael Chasen.
- “How AI will Take Over the World,” with Igor Jablokov, Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network EIR and founder of Yap (acquired by Amazon in 2011 for the development of Alexa and Echo), and Automated Insights Founder Robbie Allen.
- “How Data Impacts Product Market Fit” with Relias Learning CMO Alex Osadzinski, TransLoc CEO Doug Kaufman and Ben Weinberger of Sling TV.
- “Building a Foundation for Growth in SaaS” with Pendo Founder Todd Olson, Joe Colopy of Bronto Software and PeopleLove, and Dude Solutions Founder Lee Prevost.
- “Why Peer-To-Peer Learning is Essential in Entrepreneurship” with Matt Crisp of Benson Hill Bio and Bernard BPO’s Matt Zemon.