At Wednesday night’s June Hudson Valley Tech Meetup in Poughkeepsie, we hit a major milestone: HV Tech’s second birthday! If we were a child, we’d be a walking, maybe even talking toddler. That’s pretty exciting.
A lot has happened in the last two years. We’ve moved from small spaces in the back of restaurants and community rooms to an amazing monthly space at Indotronix (in Poughkeepsie) and the Senate Garage (in Kingston), thanks to those fantastic sponsors. We’ve grown from a small group of 40 to a bustling 1,297 members. We’ve morphed from a simple monthly Meetup to a monthly Meetup plus a dev-specific offshoot Meetup and special events like the recent Day of Women in Tech. It’s been a wild ride, and we’re so happy to continue building this community with all of you.
To celebrate, we enjoyed great talks, friendly networking, and of course—cake! Our first speakers were Les Neumann and Joe Verderame, Director and Chairman of iCANny, who gave us an overview of the world of business incubation. Not only was iCANny the first business incubator in New York State—they’re also one of only 10 NYS-certified incubators, and the only virtual incubator on the state’s list. They maintain partnerships with a myriad of business organizations, colleges, and economic development initiatives in New York, too.
So what does a business incubator do? In the simplest terms, Joe explains, they help passionate entrepreneurs who “know their products” figure out “the rest of it.” That means finding talent and mentorship, communicating with VCs, getting and using funding, and anything else along the way. There’s often a “trough,” they explain, between an entrepreneur’s dreams and passions and the business acumen they need to make those dreams reality—and it’s hard to get across that trough if you’re doing it on your own. In 12- and 16-week incubator programs, iCANny leverages the rich business ecosystem of the Hudson Valley to give start-ups a boost.
Next, we enjoyed a little audience participation in the form of a live demo of Lively, a web app that turns conferences and events into thought-provoking, interactive experiences. How it works, according to founder Brad Mehl: an event organizer or speaker submits a question through a simple, user-friendly web app system, chooses animations and music, sets custom branding (if desired) and voilà—the question is live! “What food do you wish you were eating right now?” Brand asked our HV Tech audience. And then, “What do you like best about the Hudson Valley?”
All the audience has to do to answer is engage with an SMS (text) system, making it easy for everyone with a mobile phone to participate; no app downloads or logins required. The audience’s answers are filtered—Brad explains that there’s a standard list of 14 million “unsavory” words blocked, but users can set their own blocked words, as well—and then displayed on the screen. “Pizza! Filet mignon! Mountain views!” our audience offered. These crowd-sourced responses can serve as a conversation starter, an audience feedback tool, or anything else the organizer might need.
To close out the evening, we were transported to the world of Disney Infinity, an action-adventure “sandbox” game (meaning there’s minimal limitations on gameplay) featuring all the Disney characters from Mickey to Luke Skywalker. Bryan Childs, z/OS System Integrity at IBM, has a special interest in Disney Infinity: not only is he a huge Disney fan, he also uses Infinity to teach basic computer science skills to kids as young as elementary school. After growing up interested in games and finding an interest in volunteering, Bryan combined his skills to develop the Disney Infinity Toy Box Club, which first debuted at the IBM THINK exhibit at Epcot. There, Bryan and his team spent five days doing an “Hour of Code”-style events for over 600 students. The most rewarding part? “Kids liked coding their own games more than they liked going on the rides,” he recalled.
Then, he brought the program back to his home in the Hudson Valley. The Toy Box Club is now connected with PTECH, IBM’s STEM-based high school-college hybrid program, where students collaborate to create Disney Infinity games that can be submitted to the “Community” so players worldwide can try them out. Then, he expanded it to Marist, where students are using Disney Infinity to teach computer science basics to elementary students. A government initiative recently revealed that, of the <15% of high schools that offer computer science at the AP level, only a small percentage of the students who take the test are women or students of color. By using games to teach them early, he hopes to eliminate some of the disparities in the world of CS. Unfortunately, this past May, plans for the future of Disney Infinity were cancelled, though proponents of the game are hopeful that a sublicensee will step in to save the day.
Before departing for the evening, the whole crowd enjoyed slices of the HV Tech birthday cake. The group celebration was apropos, as it’s the dedicated, passionate, diverse community that’s made HV Tech’s first two years so great. Here’s to many more years!
We have a few exciting events coming up in the next few weeks. First, we’ll be field-tripping down to NYC to attend the New York Tech Meetup on July 12. You can join us next month in Kingston on July 27, and we’ll be holding our very first Newburgh Meetup on August 11. Become a Meetup member for notifications about all of our future events!
Images copyright HV Tech sponsor Eberhardt Smith, 2016.