What you can expect from GROW Conference 2014

Debbie Landa | BCBusiness

Wearables and the Internet of things will feature prominently at this year’s late summer tech fest

From Aug. 20 to 22, B.C’s startup founders and entrepreneurs will cross paths with their Silicon Valley cohorts (and a healthy number of Sand Hall Road investors) at GROW Conference 2014, which is being held in Whistler for the first time.
I spoke with Debbie Landa, founder of Dealmaker Media and the growing family of GROW-branded events and entities—easily the watering hole of Canada’s startup scene—about the upcoming conference.
What will be the big themes at GROW 2014?
One big thing that’s happening in the world is that we’re moving from a desktop and mobile phone world to the [Internet of things]. Everyone wants the Internet to be everywhere and they’re starting to expect that. But today, it’s not real. It doesn’t exist everywhere, but one day it will. And the people coming out with this stuff are the Qualcomms, the Flextronics and Intels of the world. They’re trying to build the technology—sensors and software that can help bring our physical world and the Internet together.
Do you expect this year’s crowd to be different from years past?
It’s maturing, for sure. This year you will definitely see the typical crowd of entrepreneurs and investors, but you’ll also see executives from Staples and Target because all of them are jumping on this ‘we need to be innovative’ train and they are starting to sell connected home products, like Nest, 4moms, Sproutling (think FitBit, but for babies) and Revolv in their stores.
On that note, I see a lot more retailers—companies that you wouldn’t traditionally see as technology brands—on the speaker list. Is that deliberate?
You may not think of this as innovation, but back in the day, it was the Reebok Pump. That was extremely innovative for its time.
But seriously, the gentleman attending from Reebok is part of their “advanced technology group.” It’s almost like a startup within Reebok that does all the innovation and testing on the latest products.
We also have a company attending called mc10, which has built a microprocessor chip in this really thin fabric, that looks like a band-aid. MC10 is working with Reebok on a pilot called the “headlight.” One of the uses is for football, in which case it can check if you have any kind of head injury.
As for Lululemon, they’re exploring whether they should be embracing wearables. Are their guests even interested in that? So for them, this is of interest because they’ve got the most innovative products I’ve ever seen. They lead the way, every time.
Besides the speakers and the panels, what happens at GROW?  What’s going on behind the scenes?
The reason why anyone is in business is to do deals together: why does anyone ever go to a conference? It’s so they can do a deal. They want to find partners, they want to find customers and they want to find companies to invest in.
This is a business conference structured around helping people connect. Every day we’re sitting in offices and reaching out to set up meetings. But if you can bring them all together in a couple days and you can curate it, then you can do something great for a lot of people.