Return of Geekend spotlights startup growth in Savannah

Article on Do Savannah by Janay Kingsberry.

There’s no shortage of creativity in Savannah, thanks to a network of small businesses, notable universities and impressive art, all backlit by a city draped in historic beauty.

Its unique Southern charm has lured millions of tourists each year and with the return of Geekend from Nov. 13–15, it will also attract the brightest leaders in the tech and design industry ready to share business insight and eager to see what our city has to offer.

Now spearheaded by The Creative Coast, Geekend enters its sixth year as a premier interactive design and technology conference in the southeast region.

“This is the year of bringing Geekend back to Savannah,” said Bea Wray, executive director of The Creative Coast.

Amidst a merger between Thinking Cap Inc. and The Creative Coast, the conference took a brief hiatus last year. But Wray said they never took a break from planning.

“We saw something we wanted to bring back,” Wray said.

We sort of feel like we speak for thousands of people in the area that are creative innovators and they all said, ‘We want it back.’

Through a series of workshops, keynote addresses, panel discussions and networking events, Geekend will speak on three themes in an effort to cultivate a community where people of all backgrounds, skill levels and creative avenues can realize, create and foster their dreams.

“Those themes are interwoven and yet they’re distinct, as well,” Wray said. “All of our keynotes pretty much speak to those three points.”

Do. Build. Make

Everyone wants to create stunning content and beautiful products.

Ian Nott, an industrial design student at Savannah College of Art and Design, may know this better than most.

At 23 years old, Nott is co-founder of Aetho, a company that specializes in image-stabilized handheld and headset accessories for GoPro cameras to help everyday consumers shoot and retain amazing video quality.

Though iPhones tout optimized video stabilization, Nott says the software doesn’t come close to matching Aetho’s dual power of software and hardware technology.

“Our technology mitigates that gap of what you see in your mind and what it actually ends up being,” Nott said.

Attendees can see this for themselves during Aetho’s presentation at Geekend ‘s Pitch Circus, an exercise that will allow Nott and other local entrepreneurs the chance to pitch to guest investors based as far as Palo Alto and New York, and where attendees will vote on the winner.

John Burke, founder of venture capital firm True Ventures, will lead Pitch Circus with a keynote address Nov. 14 to discuss his 15 years of experience in the industry and offer insight for young entrepreneurs interested in securing funding.

“We are obsessively focused on the founding team,” Burke said.

We look for founders who will bring us into new markets they will disrupt.

“‘Mistakes’ for me are spending too much time talking about the product; I want to get excited about the team and the market,” Burke said. “I don’t invest in a technology but the team. I want to hear that they have gone out and talked to 100 potential customers before they wrote a line of code.

“If they tell me they are in stealth and haven’t talked to any potential customers and are nearly done with the product, it is an immediate pass.”

For those not quite ready to talk finance, a series of events during the conference, such as “Scan, Model, Print, Make: 3D Tech Tool Applications” and “Economic Architecture: Why and how you should build a hacker/maker/coworker space,” will touch on a variety of topics essential to startup growth and development.

“There are dormant ideas and desires that are hidden in each of us and Geekend wants to turn the light switch on,” Wray said. “It switches from ‘if only’ to ‘let’s go.’ And then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘I don’t need to wait to start that company. I just found a partner. I just found an investor. I just found a process.’”

Design.Ideation

Transforming an idea into an early prototype or growing a garage startup into a lucrative company are challenges that rely on the practice and understanding of two critical concepts: Design and Ideation.

In clearest terms, it means taking a simple idea and redesigning it to be innovative, bold and disruptive.

Similar to how Aetho is revolutionizing filmmaking for consumers, Brian Corrigan and Justin Gitlin have taken the classic gaming experience and spun it into an immersive street arcade in Denver known as OhHeckYeah.

It started with a prototype game just a couple of years ago.

“It was a two-player game based on a couple of old-school, 8-bit like Atari games,” said Gitlin, director and developer of OhHeckYeah. “We thought that it was really easy for people to understand because it sort of borrowed from the classic video games. We wanted all the games to sort of be something where you move left or right or forward and back. it’s a really simple control with your body to move something on the screen.”

Powered by the Denver Theatre District’s LED screens and accompanied by Colorado Symphony Orchestra musicians, OhHeckYeah debuted this summer to national media exposure and public praise as people came together on the street for a first-of-its-kind interactive festival.

Corrigan and Gitlin will share their process and ideas for “revitalizing play” during Geekend’s closing night keynote presentation, “The OhHeckYeah Street Arcade: Transforming Communities with Play.”

The brilliance of good technology is simplicity, said Corrigan, founder and director of OhHeckYeah. During the early stages of developing their game, Corrigan knew it needed to be something fun for everyone.

“It’s hard to make simple things super fun,” he said, “and that’s kind of genius.”

“I think the general public thought it was the coolest thing they’ve ever seen,” Gitlin adds.

An Installation of OhHeckYeah will be available at Geekend along with KodeStars Arcade, a showcase of video games developed by local middle and high school students to encourage programming and coding education.

“Nowadays, there are just so many amazing resources online to dive into learning programming,” Gitlin said.

The general movement in the technology world is that all this stuff is becoming integratable with each other. So you can kick off these parts and a bunch of open source code and build something pretty unthinkable. Things are snowballing so fast. And people are building all these building blocks that you can quickly tie together.

Savannah’s KodeStars and broader initiatives like Code School and code.org show the thrill and the ability for anyone to create something fun and useful.

“The first step is to not be intimidated by programming,” Gitlin said. “I personally failed my first computer science class in college, so it didn’t come easy for me. It might not be easy but it’s absolutely doable.”

Community.Impact

What more can someone get out of Geekend? Besides the chance to learn about creative business strategies and forward-moving trends in technology, at the heart of Geekend is a charge to support and build a flourishing community where people are inspired to create, collaborate and contribute to Savannah’s emergence as a startup hub in the southeast.

Geekend’s schedule offers plenty of networking opportunities and free time between workshops to see this through. And with the city’s full plate of activities this weekend – from the Savannah Children’s Book Festival to the Savannah Food and Wine Festival – guests will have a chance to explore our enriched community.

“We want you to get a taste of Savannah,” Wray said.

We feel that Geekend is a great way to reach beyond Savannah and showcase not just the innovation and technology and design and talent here, but the whole city.

The Creator’s Foundry, an industrial building revitalized by The Creative Coast as a venue for fun and innovative practices, will be the well-suited setting for Geekend’s finale event, a celebratory of creativity on Nov. 15 open to the public and featuring transcendent artists Kishi Bashi and Tall Tall Trees.

“Our organization is about this region and building up innovation and creativity and design in this region,” Wray said. “If Savannah is an innovation hub of creativity, design, cool people, great opportunity, then it needs a spotlight. And that’s what Geekend is. It’s a chance to highlight what can be.”

Source: Do Savannah.