How Seattle Companies and Innovators Can Change the World: Come Find Out on March 29

There’s no crying in baseball—or in innovation. Yet I’ve been hearing a fair bit of lamenting around town about how Seattle startups or venture capitalists are not making the top-whatever lists (Wall Street Journal, Technology Review, you name it) of most innovative companies or investors around the country.

Who cares? The city that brought the world Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, McCaw Cellular, RealNetworks, Starbucks, and any number of other game-changing companies, should not be too worried. It should, however, be motivated. And it is.

That’s why we’re gathering an elite group of technology and life sciences leaders to talk about how to spot the biggest, most promising ideas in their fields, and how these ideas could really change the world, at our half-day Xconomy Forum, “What’s Your Breakthrough Idea?” on March 29 at the University of Washington. (Tickets are going fast, but there are still a few left at our special saver rate—you can register here.)

This is about thinking big as a community. But it’s also about the realities around making the biggest ideas work—building the right teams for the right companies, understanding who the customers are, handling competition, and so forth. And although the focus will be mostly on Seattle-area companies and leaders, the impact that we’re talking about here is decidedly global.

Here’s a little more about the program and speakers for March 29 (topics are subject to change):

—Nick Hanauer of Second Avenue Partners will open with a keynote about the mental calculus behind identifying a true breakthrough idea, versus a really, really good idea that probably won’t get traction. Nick doesn’t think of himself as a technology guy, yet some of his blockbuster investments happen to be in tech—Amazon, aQuantive, Insitu. (There’s a lesson already: don’t think in terms of your specialty area, think about an aspect of society that could be radically changed.)

—Christina Lomasney of Modumetal will talk about how growing the right kinds of “nanomaterials” could help reinvent the steel industry—and how this will impact energy efficiency, transportation, and defense. She might also tell us a thing or two about what she learned from her time at Boeing.

—Mick Mountz of Kiva Systems (from the Boston area) will discuss how mobile robots are transforming the logistics and operations of warehouses, especially in the e-retail business. Kiva’s robots move shelves of inventory around automatically and are able to help staff distribution centers for companies like Staples and Zappos (now part of Amazon).

—Steve Seitz of the UW’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering will talk about a breakthrough idea from computer vision (and maybe about creating 3-D virtual worlds … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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