RALEIGH – NC TECH Exponential got new life at this year’s event, which took place Tuesday at the Raleigh Convention Center. This was the 14th year of the event, but as Brooks Raiford, NC TECH CEO and president, told me, this year was a refresh of the old format.

“Some of the feedback we got was that it would be great to have a little more interaction and maybe a little bit different format throughout the course of the day if we could,” said Raiford. “So we reimagined a bit how the day looks.”

NC TECH hosts thought leaders on state of tech, hands out NEXT TECH awards

A Keynote from the Edge

This NC TECH event opened with welcoming comments by Raiford before launching into a keynote from the CTO of Edge Computing for IBM, Robert High.

High spoke about the evolution of technology, examining the push and pull of distributed vs. localized solutions. He argued for the values of a targeted, edge solution.

“In the edge, you have a great deal of heterogeneity. Different devices using different architectures” said High. “Sometimes there’s a little memory, sometimes we have a lot of memory. And a lot of cases that computing is targeted for a particular purpose, just allocated for that reason as opposed to being a general pool of new resources.”

High offered numerous examples of how an edge architecture can offer improved business results, but he also showed how it has revolutionized what technology can deliver. He cited work with Boston Robotics and the example of IBM’s contributions to the Mayflower Autonomous Ship, an unmanned marine research vessel.

After the opening keynote, attendees headed to concurrent session options for the morning. In the effort to diversify content, the NC TECH planners took pains to provide a range of talk types. In addition to traditional panel sessions, the conference also offered a point-counterpoint on the dangers of Tik Tok, and shorter subject-matter-expert talks on a variety of topics. Between sessions, attendees had the opportunity to network or chat with the arena of exhibitors outside the main ballroom.

“Data is the new oil”

While the format changed, the hot topics remained hot; security, privacy, and AI/automation were consistent touch points. The session “Datafication: Analytics + Artificial Intelligence” was standing-room only. Panelists Scott Gerard, Jeremy Freeman, Jeff Maze, and Brett Lamm, with moderation by David Washo, represented a range of data experts.

“Data is the new oil,” has become a popular take thanks to the multitude of industries looking for insights anywhere they can find them. But Gerard warned that the volume of data is its own problem.

“A lot of people want to just collect every dang thing they can find and hope that someday they’re going to need it,” said Gerard. “Somewhere between two-thirds and up to, like, 97% of the data that is collected is never looked at. So people that are just collecting everything are just causing a real burden on the rest of their data engineering team.”

The panel also spoke about the immense potential and danger of data as it moves to use for AI. Maze described data as the platform to launch AI “rockets.” But there’s a lot to do.

“[Data] is hard work,” warned Maze. “You got to get access to it. You got to secure it, got to organize it, and understand it. You got to scrub it.” Maze continued, “And then you can have some fun with it.”

Five startups crack Startup Showcase for NC TECH’s 2023 State of Technology event

Startup Showcase and time for “Tech Talk”

After lunch attendees were treated to the Startup Showcase, a popular addition to the NC TECH event several years ago. This too got a facelift. Rather than traditional pitches with audience voting, this year’s Showcase featured pitches made to a panel of three entrepreneurial ecosystem leaders – Shark Tank-style. While the panel wasn’t made of investors, Raiford told me this year is a good trial, and they may try to offer actual funding for next year’s event.

The event’s closing keynote was the annual “Tech Talk”, this year featuring Dr. James Lester, North Carolina State University Goodnight Distinguished University Professor in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Lester spoke about the advent of AI for business and education and ended by reminding attendees of the immense opportunity that AI offers.

“While it’s true that there are challenges ahead, the opportunities are nothing short of remarkable, and I hope that you will dive in headfirst.”

The event wrapped with the announcement of the Startup Showcase winner, CliniSpan Health, a company working to improve diversity in medical studies.

Looking Ahead

The NC TECH organization has more events coming up for the year. Their annual Golf Classic and Leadership Summit is August 9th at Pinehurst and, according to Raiford, is nearly sold out. NC TECH also hosts a Women in Tech Summit, this year scheduled for September 27th in New Bern. And the signature NC TECH Awards Gala is scheduled for November 1st back in the Raleigh Convention Center.

Applications for the NC TECH Awards open tomorrow, June 15, and remain open until July 15.