This week (July 24-26), the VOICE Summit will take place in Newark at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
It’s been an exciting road to the start of the event. Our choice of Newark as host city was fortuitous.
The seeds were planted on the day we were sitting in a conference room at the Day One building in Seattle with the Amazon Alexa team. The first question, after we all agreed on terms of the event, was where to have it?
We decided at that point that we’d put together an RFP and let the right city come to us. It came down to four: Newark, New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
All of those cities would have been great places to have a conference. But the Newark response for us was unique in that it was close to a major metropolitan area, but also had a lot of really attractive features throughout.
For example, they had a whole team that put together a host committee that included NJIT, the mayor’s office, the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau, Newark Community Economic Development Corp. and local tech industry leaders.
One little known fact about Newark is it’s actually home to Audible, one of the very first companies that was bought by Amazon. There are a lot of other notable industries and companies there, including Panasonic America, Prudential and some big health care players like Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas.
Also, Newark is also in the midst of a major transformation and new companies are moving in as they realize the benefits of being so close to a major metro area at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, there is a wealth of local talent as there are five universities in and around Newark, and yeah, NJIT is one of them. In fact, NJIT graduates more engineers than MIT.
The VOICE Summit was based on market knowledge gained after we conducted a 10-city Alexa Skills training tour last summer through Voicehacks, a new community we launched that’s sponsored by Amazon Alexa. After training about 2,000 people on how to build Alexa skills, we learned a lot about who was interested and why.
In every city we visited we met developers, designers, content writers, UX engineers, brands, agencies and startups. We knew the voice-first event market needed a big tent event to bring everyone together, which marked the beginning of VOICE Summit.
Our “why” is that we believe human connection is vital in the era of digital transformation. And based on this, I view our goals in terms of tangibles and intangibles. From a tangible goals perspective, we set a goal this year of 1500 attendees and we’re very happy to report that we’ve surpassed that goal already.
We anticipate total registrations of close to 2,500 by the time the event starts. We also wanted this to be a global event. From that perspective, we’ve been successful as well with eight countries and more than 30 states represented.
And then with sponsorships, we’ve been delighted at how the market has responded with more than 60 partners joining the first ever VOICE Summit. Through those partners, we’ve also been able to award more than 350 student scholarships to K-12 and university students in the region, allowing us to live by our mission to always be giving back through our events. The impact these scholarships will have on these kids will be life-changing. And all of this in just four short months. The future is bright for the voice-first community based on these short-term results.
Our “why” really sets in with the intangibles, and there are so many that I believe are more important than the tangibles. First, we wanted to prove why Newark was selected and to that ends we’ve hit a home run.
The host committee made up of the city, NJIT, Newark Happening, Newark Community Economic Development Corp., Citi Medina and the local industry have been a pleasure to get to know and work with. And it goes beyond just Newark to include the region and the state, with Mayor Ras Baraka kicking off the event and Gov. Phil Murphy closing the event. This kind of support has been outstanding for us as we seek to establish VOICE as an annual tradition and with the support thus far, it’s looking good. We also look forward to welcoming people from around the world to discover Newark and see why it was selected.
And then there’s the short-term goal of impacting the industry and moving it forward and to that end, the VoiceSummit Slack channel and @voicesummitai Twitter handles have been ablaze with this community coming together and excited to be meeting for the first time, growing existing friendships and partnerships. The human element is so strong here and that’s where all the rewards are for me.
The vision is to establish VOICE in Europe and Asia and then keep building on our success here in the U.S. So, VOICE 2019 is already in the works (though nothing has been announced yet), which includes at least one stop across the pond. While we anticipate close to 2,500 registrations this year, I can see this becoming an event of 10,000-plus persons in the years to come around this fast-moving industry. If we keep nailing our intangibles and our sponsors have a good experience, then I think we’re well on our way.
See you in Newark.
Pete Erickson is the founder of VOICE and Modev, a website for mobile developers, product managers and executives.