“SpecTech is to technology as industrial sites are to manufacturing,” Chamber of Commerce president Al Hodge said. “Think of it as an innovation station.”
The Spectrum of Technology series started as an initiative of Rome-Floyd 20/20 program in a concerted effort to diversify the local economy. Hodge said the idea was to try to incorporate emerging medical and health care opportunities along with education and manufacturing.
“We want to leverage those three (sectors) with the growing interest in the digital realm for information technology,” Hodge said. He calls SpecTech an intersection of health care and information technology with the Chamber taking a lead role in the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation.
The Chamber is using SpecTech to go after higher value technology jobs and businesses and to create capacity conducive to changing technology and the digital world.
The Chamber’s Future Industries Initiative is an outgrowth of the SpecTech series, which has provided an annual focus on technology as it relates to health care, education and traditional manufacturing.
Hodge said the Chamber started out locally and moved quickly to bring in outside experts so that local entrepreneurs could get exposure to some of the brightest minds in emerging business and evolving industry.
“This is very much about equipping the attendees with information that’s going to help them make smarter decisions once the leave,” said Lowell Pratt, the Chamber’s small business coordinator.
Pratt said there have been some very positive results from previous SpecTech programs. “One specific example might be Northwest Georgia Regional Angel Investor Network, which was a concept that was posed to the attendees in a breakout session in 2008,” Pratt said. NWGRAIN still has not funded its first enterprise, but Pratt said they’re close and have screened between 18 and 20 companies, both local and regional.
Pratt said it has not been unusual at all for the Chamber to hear, after the fact, that a local person, or business, is now doing business with a company that was represented by a guest speaker or panelist at a previous SpecTech program.
Hodge suggests that the program provides the opportunity for people of like-minded interests to get together. “People that have ideas and need money or people with investment potential that are looking for these kinds of good folks (to provide financial support for),” Hodge said.
Like SpecTech Four, which took place last fall, the event this week is taking place over two days, beginning Thursday afternoon and continuing Friday morning.
A special Student Robotics Initiative will actually kick off the conference in the DeSoto Theater at 1:30, followed by Stephen Fleming, a vice president at Georgia Tech and executive director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, who will deliver the keynote at Thursday’s session in the DeSoto beginning at 2 p.m.
Following two other breakout sessions Thursday afternoon, a special Business After Hours will take place at 5:30 at the Coosa Country Club.
Friday morning, Dr. Chris McKinney, associate vice president for Technology Transfer and Economic Development at Georgia Health Sciences University, will deliver the day two keynotes at 8 a.m. in the DeSoto.
The breakout sessions each day will focus on digital issues, engineering and health care. The small group programs will take place in the DeSoto, and other venues in downtown Rome.
Van Willis, an entrepreneur from Atlanta, attended last year’s event and this year, he’s coming back as the co-founder of PreMedEx, a health information technology company.
Zach Huston, who is on the program as a panelist and as a presenter, was a computer science major at Berry College. “He got together with a couple of other folks and founded PaperBackSwap.com which is a website for swapping paper back books. “They’ve developed some interesting relationships with Amazon.com,” Pratt said. “He is now in the process of exiting PaperBackSwap.com and starting this instant site search.”
What’s in the event for the run-of-the-mill Rome small business owner?
“For one, we of course want that brick and mortar retail here and we want our brick and mortar retails folks to be able to sell online,” Hodge said. We also want the online sellers to be here in Rome and Floyd County, creating the software, creating the jobs, creating the opportunities.”
Pratt said it is significant to understand the difference between technology-based and technology-enabled.
“Some of these presenters at SpecTech are technology-based companies but we’re all sort of technology enabled in some way or another,” Pratt said. “Part of the opportunity of the event is understanding what’s impacting you as a retailer or small business owner and being able to act accordingly and get information.”