During the heyday of mining and timber production, North Idaho was at the forefront of emerging technologies in the industries that help power the world. Today the landscape is much different with many businesses becoming reliant on tourism in order to survive and expand. Walk into just about any hotel, café or restaurant and you’ll find a ‘Help Wanted’ sign for server, busser, front desk, housekeeping, bartender or barista. This is keeping unemployment in the area very low, but finding jobs in advanced science or technology remains a struggle for many communities.
Since 2013, Innovation Collective has been on a mission to turn those struggles into successes and inspire a wave of innovators. The Collective holds monthly meet-ups like fireside chats in which a national speaker is brought in to inspire creativity. Coffee and Concepts is a bi-monthly meet-up where community members can get together to discuss new technology news, and upstart businesses can brainstorm with others. The highlight for many each year is the annual Think Big Festival which comes to the Lake City August 23 through 25.
Put on by Innovation Collective, the goal is to gather as many citizens of North Idaho to a place where they can hear from world-renowned experts in high-tech fields. “Our goal was to catalyze big thoughts and crazy ideas by introducing locals to the most cutting-edge technology and people working in the robotics and AI [artificial intelligence] space,” said Collective COO Chris Cochran.
The first Think Big Festival was attended by 100 people and featured four experts. The 2018 event brings 25 speakers to Coeur d’Alene and organizers are hoping for a turnout of around 1,500. As the event continues to gain recognition, more prominent speakers are lining up to participate. “With each year we have gained notoriety within the robotics world, so that makes it easier,” said Cochran. “Combine that with our network of contacts and the beautiful lake town of Coeur d’Alene, and we are able to bring some of the leading minds to the Festival.”
Attending this year are some of the top minds, leaders and scientists in emerging technology. Garen Moreno is director of strategic partnering at BMW Designworks and Host of “Departure Unknown,” a popular technology podcast. Megan Smith served as the chief technology officer during the Obama administration, sits on the board at MIT and is a previous vice president at Google. A very cool local angle will be the presentation of Burt Rutan, who since retiring in 2011 has called Coeur d’Alene home. Rutan is a legendary aerospace engineer most noteworthy for his 1986 Voyager flight—the first flight in which a plane flew around the world without stopping or refueling. He has designed and flown more than 40 unique planes and has countless honors and recognitions.
“The fact that those who attend Think Big Festival get access to people like The Rear Admiral of Surface Warfare for the US Navy, the legendary Burt Rutan, the most connected man on the planet and the first ever person to have a mind-controlled robotic prosthetic, is something that cannot be overlooked. It really is a special event,” said Cochran.
Over the festival, attendees will get to not only attend presentations from these incredible minds but meet and interact with them face to face. Cochran believes this is one of the very best aspects about attending.
“My favorite part of Think Big Festival is hearing the incredible conversations that happen during the citywide pub crawl. I remember hearing the CEO of an Autonomous Vehicle company talking with someone from BMW and a local citizen who wasn’t in tech having a spirited discussion on what needs to change in order for our society to fully accept autonomous vehicles,” he said.
The Festival isn’t just auditorium-style presentations, as organizers want everyone to have a lot of fun in a relaxed setting typical of a summer weekend in North Idaho.
“We are throwing a giant block party in front of the Innovation Den that will include concerts, DJs, food vendors, a beer garden and the Think Big Robotics Experience, where people can get up close and hands on with actual robots, drones and other revolutionary technology,” said Cochran.
With a variety of incredible speakers and innovators scheduled to appear, one such speaker has Cochran and others very excited. A recent strategic alignment with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) brings Chief Scientist for Johns Hopkins APL’s Brain Compute Interface David Blodgett. This technology is literally allowing people to type using telepathy. Imagine being able to think something and your computer or mobile device can type it. “This will be the first time this technology is presented to the public, so we are very excited about it,” said Cochran.
Innovators are beginning to emerge in Coeur d’Alene. And in recent years several new technology startups have come to call the area home. Many were inspired through the Innovation Collective and Think Big Festival, and organizers hope that inspiration continues, especially with the area’s young people.
“Our sincere desire is that young people and innovators get access to some of the most innovative minds on the planet. Our goal is that they would come away inspired to want to innovate themselves and emboldened to bring their own dreams to life,” said Cochran.
Tickets for an event like this can often run upward of $400. In fact, previous Think Big Festival tickets were over the $100 mark. This year, thanks to increased sponsorship support, tickets for the entire two-day festival including concert, tech carnival, speaking engagements and block party are just $25. Coeur d’Alene Living Local readers also have a special opportunity to get themselves in for free. The First 50 people to share ThinkBigFestival.com on Facebook with the hashtag #ThinkBig18 will be sent a link to a free ticket.
The Think Big Festival offers TED-type talks and discussions at small-town festival prices. It creates dialogue and new ideas in a casual setting. Something like this is typically found in Silicon Valley or a major market, making this one of the more unique opportunities North Idaho can be a part of. If you have an idea for business, want to get hands on with new technology or just want to discover what new technology really means, you’ll come away with all kinds of new ideas after Think Big. For a list of speakers and events or to purchase your tickets in advance, visit ThinkBigFestival.com. More information on the Innovation Collective and its mission can be found at InnovationCollective.co.