Recently, New Jersey Institute of Technology and the city of Newark found themselves once again at the center of the global tech scene.
The reason — the return of the largest voice technology event in the world, VOICE 2019, which attracted thousands of international developers, startups, global brands and thought-leaders at the forefront of the voice-first era to NJIT’s grounds this past July.
The level of attention at VOICE reached an entirely new pitch at the second-annual summit; the boom in this year’s turnout is very much in line with the explosion of popular personal assistant devices like Amazon Alexa and other voice technologies that are expected to drive voice-driven commerce to $40 billion by 2022.
Pete Erickson, the event’s organizer and founder of Modev, has been offering a few numbers that highlight the dramatic transformation of the 2019 Amazon-sponsored conference from its first year in 2018 into what he now refers to as an international technology “event of events”:
● More than 5,000 attendees (up from 2,800 attendees in 2018)
● More than 30 countries represented (up from 15 in 2018)
● More than 450 expert speakers (up from 150 speakers in 2018)
● A new startup EXPO with more than 150 event sponsors and 150 exhibitors
Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Mercedes-Benz and Audible were some of the brand headliners that joined thousands of others showcasing the latest in voice tech under one roof — NJIT’s Wellness and Events Center (WEC) — one of northern New Jersey’s newest full-service conference spaces, which has emerged as the official stage of the “voice-first revolution” over the past two years.
According to Erickson, the sparkling 220,000-square-foot WEC opened in 2017 is a key reason why NJIT was able to win a 10-city competitive bid that brought VOICE to the city of Newark in 2018. It’s a venue he felt was capable of handling his ambitious vision for VOICE, which has grown exponentially this year into a weeklong marathon of mainstage keynotes, product announcements, award ceremonies and an EXPO for tech startups.
“The WEC made all the difference,” said Erickson. “Once we saw that location coupled with the partnership that the City of Newark, the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau, and [NJIT] were bringing to the table, we knew we had a winning formula for a launch event.”
“[This year] we brought together close to 5,000 people from more than 30 countries to Newark and NJIT and we’ve heard great things from them.”
Lorie Brown, executive director, strategic events and conference services at NJIT, says the WEC’s multipurpose rooms and versatile 3,500-seat Division I sports arena — capable of transforming into everything from a concert hall, convention center or convocation space — is only part of the story when it comes to the total campus facilities that NJIT has at its disposal to host VOICE. However, Brown agrees NJIT’s crown jewel facility is an important one.
The WEC, which Brown describes as “more intimate than Prudential Center, a larger seating capacity than NJPAC, and a more affordable option than both,” has been able to match the high-tech needs of VOICE at every turn.
“Along with the main stage events in the WEC arena, we were able to transform the facility’s multipurpose rooms into a full-fledged expo hall this year,” said Brown. “It’s a nontraditional space that can support a growing conference the size of VOICE, while also being much more affordable than most of the region’s convention centers and hotels.
“Overall, with the amount of speakers and sessions that were scheduled this year, I don’t know that any other space in the city other than NJIT would have worked,” added Brown.
Brown says NJIT’s 45-acre campus grounds are uniquely suited to handling the immense undertaking of hosting VOICE — offering high-tech classrooms and lecture halls for hundreds of breakout sessions and workshops, student-workers trained in offering technical support, as well as showroom-style venues such as New Jersey Innovation Institute’s Agile Strategy Lab for major press conferences and expert panel discussions.
“Beyond the WEC, we have access to premier meeting spaces across campus that are just steps from each other,” said Brown. “NJIT is unique in that we have a small campus footprint with flexible space that can transform to meet the needs of almost any client.”
While most plans for VOICE 2020 have yet to be announced, Erickson has tipped that he will expand the summit’s content services even further to include podcasting and live streaming. Not a problem for NJIT, says Brown.
“That is exactly the type of thing the WEC was built for and that we can easily support,” said Brown. “Absolutely, we can make it happen … the foundation is already here.”