Recap: 2009 Wharton Business Technology Conference - Technical.ly Philly

Mar. 2, 2009 5:10 pm

Recap: 2009 Wharton Business Technology Conference

On Friday, Technically Philly was invited to attend the 2009 Wharton Business Technology Conference, held at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue. The event included 50 speakers, panelists, and moderators from the technology industry and boasts that it is Philadelphia’s largest technology event. That may be true, but we’re still paralyzed by the conference’s creepy […]

On Friday, Technically Philly was invited to attend the 2009 Wharton Business Technology Conference, held at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue. The event included 50 speakers, panelists, and moderators from the technology industry and boasts that it is Philadelphia’s largest technology event. That may be true, but we’re still paralyzed by the conference’s creepy marketing photograph, pictured above.

Keynotes were presented by Stephen Elop, President of Microsoft‘s Business Division, Ahmed Mahmoud, CIO of AMD, and Clay Van Doren, Managing Director Service Design and VoIP at BT. And panels covered topics ranging from tech entrepreneurship and venture capital to cloud computing and going mobile. We showed up wearing jeans, in a sea of suits, wondering what all the fuss was about.

Our thoughts on the panels we were able to attend, details on how Philly got snubbed, and ruminations on Microsoft’s future (it involves Minority Report), after the jump.

Beyond Web 2.0 Panel: Evolution or Revolution?

With panelists including EBay, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Comcast Interactive Media, we anticipated that buzz words were going to be the native dialect.

The discussion quickly turned into each company describing what they would bring to Web 3.0, and most of the answers were centered around social media integration. We won’t claim to be experts in this space, but we gotta say, even the Wikipedia definition (how social of us to “share” a “wiki”) says Web 2.0 includes the development of social media. Why these companies feel it necessary to try and stretch this definition into new territory stunk of marketing to us.

There was a very noticeable generational and attitudinal gap between the major companies listed above, and a smaller player on the panel, Doostang CEO Mareza Larizadeh. When asked what they were focused on for the future, the big guys talked about expanding companies in any way possible to keep up with customer demands. Larizadeh, on the other hand, recommended finding niches. Not a bad idea, considering that Doostang has held its own against similar professional networking services such as LinkedIn.

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Startup Panel: Young Entrepreneurs

Our first thought when entering the Young Entrepreneurs panel? We were lied to. Youth is subjective, but the panel members were no spring chickens.

But all was forgiven, as this was the most audience-friendly event we attended at the conference. The panel members, including the city’s own Jon Herrmann of Campus Philly, each told of their recommendations and regrets on their road to entrepreneurship and then fielded numerous questions from a very young audience. Advice included getting a prototype up and running before going on the hunt for funding, making sure you beleive in your first hires, and “hire slowly but fire fast.”

The star of the panel was Alcatel-Lucent‘s Wim Sweldens who made his answers quickly and succinctly, often with humor thrown in for good measure. When an audience member asked about beginning a business in today’s environment, Sweldens literally pounded the table, a sign of his optimism, and suggested that down markets breed innovation.

Venture Capital: Funding in the Eye of the Storm

The highlight of this panel wasn’t what was said, but instead, what wasn’t.

The session was controlled by moderator Brian O’Malley of Battery Ventures for the majority of the event. Each of the panelists emphasized that there is no one road to get involved in venture capital and that down markets are where they typically see their greatest returns. DFJ Gotham‘s Thatcher Bell was the resident realist, dishing out refreshing no-frills advice for those wishing to become involved in the VC sector.

When the session was thrown open to questions, Technically Philly asked the panel their thoughts on the current state of the venture capital market in Philadelphia. There was a long silence, before the panel quietly elected Michael Aronson of Penn-based MentorTech Ventures to answer. Aronson, who was the only panel member based in Philadelphia, pointed to the Ben Franklin Technology Partners as evidence of a local funding option. When Conshohocken-based angel investor First Round was mentioned, members of the panel were quick to point out that while there may be several Philadelphia-based firms, most invest outside of the area.

Jeff Karras of Levensohn Venture Partners said he’d be apt to move a funded company to San Fransisco, which we took as a sleight against smaller communities like Philadelphia’s. While we may be biased, it seemed that the local venture capital market received little respect from most of the panel. For an event held by a respected Philadelphia university, in a hotel in downtown Philadelphia, the lack of locally relevant information was discouraging.

What We Missed

One thing we can get excited about is Microsoft’s keynote speech by Stephen Elop, which we were unfortunately unable to attend. Elop shared what Microsoft envisions a decade from now. ZDNet has a imaginative recap of what Elop showed off:

Imagine drawing on floor-to-ceiling office windows with your finger, using them like a whiteboard, aided by contextual information right at your fingertips, translated as necessary. You haven’t lost your marbles you’re participating in a global corporate meeting, and your colleagues are doing the same thing on four other continents. Your son calls your office but you don’t have a phone. Instead, the call routes right to the office windows you are drawing on, which happen to be in a public meeting space in a Brussels airport. As you talk, you reach for your coffee mug, which shows  digitally and in real-time on the porcelain surface  that your beverage is cooling down from the 114 degrees it once was.

Microsoft is spending $9 billion a year on R&D to help make this a reality. Bright idea, given the admitted failure of Vista and the flop that Windows Mobile 6.5 made at Mobile World Congress this year. If we were Microsoft, we’d be telling customers about the “big picture,” too. And if that doesn’t work, throw some cute international kids in a promo video with a bunch of crazy gadgets and a million surfaces that probably shouldn’t be computer displays, and show it at the conference:

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