Reps from Tesla, Google, Walmart and more descend on Reno for tech conference
RENO, Nev. — Technology heavy-hitters and thought leaders from throughout America’s Heartland and the Pacific states converged in Reno last week for a conference to make connections and learn from each other.
The inaugural VentureBeat BLUEPRINT 2018 conference, March 5-7, took place at the Nevada Museum of Art and featured an array of speakers, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and other government officials, plus representatives from Tesla, Google, Switch, Microsoft, Walmart and more.
Roughly 400 leaders of technical innovation attended the invitation-only event. They made connections, took home ideas and saw Reno in a new light.
“At the end of the day, (Reno) is stilling fighting a perception,” said Doug Erwin, vice president of entrepreneurial development with the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), co-sponsor of the conference.
The “high-level conversation” in technology can do much to undo that old image of Reno, he said, adding that, “We’re doing so much more.”
Attendees had the opportunity to tour the region, including the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, the arts community, breweries and other Reno hot spots.
“Reno is one of the greatest technical success stories around,” Lauren O’Brien, vice president of operations for VentureBeat, told the NNBW. “It’s turned the region around.”
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After the presidential election, many people in technology felt left behind, O’Brien said, so VentureBeat pivoted to help stimulate the innovation conversation. Creating BLUEPRINT 2018 was a way to make a statement.
Forty “heartland’ communities were represented at the conference, demonstrating that innovation is happening in more places than the Bay Area.
“It’s caused us to pause and see that a lot is going on outside of (Silicon) Valley,” O’Brien said. “We’re shifting to a regional focus.”
Making connections was at the heart of the conference, with a goal of extending the successes of Silicon Valley to other areas that are more livable.
“I’ve bumped into several people who said they are ready to leave the Bay Area,” Matt Marshall, CEO of VentureBeat, said during his opening remarks. “The turnover is 20 percent in Silicon Valley, compared to 0 percent in Tennessee.”
The exodus is so dramatic that costs for U-hauls to get out of the Bay Area are skyrocketing.
“If you rent a U-haul to leave San Francisco and move to Vegas, it’s $2,000 one way. If you rent the U-haul in Las Vegas to move to San Francisco it’s $200 one way,” Jeff Harper said in a recent Tweet that has gone viral.
Connecting Reno to Bay Area companies without actually leaving the Bay Area is an opportunity Rudd Davis, CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Blackbird Air, wants to increase.
Davis calls Blackbird a “life optimization business” that minimizes airport delays and flies high above traffic congestion.
“We’re here trying to solicit feedback from companies in Reno and find out what they are looking for in terms of air service (to the Bay Area),” he said.
Davis said he is confident the company can offer regular Palo Alto-to-Reno flights in a month or so.
‘A BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION’
Wherever you turned, it seemed during the BLUEPRINT event, there were connections to be made and ideas to be birthed.
The conference featured numerous fireside chats, panel discussions and breakout sessions.
Featured speakers included Chris Enslin, vice president of tech modernization for Walmart, who talked about the mega company’s new technology center in Austin/Forth Worth designed to create pioneering technologies for the retail industry. That could take the form of artificial intelligence to identify spills in an aisle or other technologies to ensure food doesn’t spoil.
“It’s a huge investment in training and reshuffling associates,” he said. “It will create opportunities that we don’t even know about today.”
Other featured guests included Ira Ehrenpreis, co-founder and managing director of DBL Partners in San Francisco; Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media; Michael Ronen, founding partner SoftBank Vision Fund; and Jason Illian, managing director Koch Disruptive Technologies.
“We expect people to leave here with a blueprint for action and ideas to take to their communities,” VentureBeat’s O’Brien said.
Government officials attending the summit included Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (District 32), Mineral County Commissioner Chris Hegg, Mineral County District Attorney Sean Rowe, and Lyon County Manager Jeff Page.