Centered around the largest city in Vermont, the Burlington metro area isn’t all that large — Burlington has only 42,284 residents, and about a quarter of them are students at the University of Vermont — but it does have a strong culture of entrepreneurship and tech. The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream franchise began here in a renovated gas station. This Northeast tourist destination makes the list because of its high number of tech-related patents, the third highest for 1,000 residents in our top 10 list. The area also enjoys a slightly above-average density of tech start-ups.
Vermont has a rich history of technical innovation and continues be a hub for new ideas. Essex was the original home of IBM, and was recently acquired by GlobalFoundries, which currently retains 3,000 employees. Today, Vermont still has much to offer in the technology sector, so much so that city officials in conjunction with BTV Ignite, formed Innovation Week. This week long celebration is a way of introducing the public to the myriad opportunities available to them in technological positions around Vermont. Innovation Week kicked off with HackVT and ended with Tech Jam. In between those two annual events were a series of more than 20 other celebrations of technology.
There was a gubernatorial debate focused on each candidate’s ideas about the implementation and use of technology in Vermont, UVM held an “Innovation Slam” in their Davis Center. Did I mention there was a Beer and Gear social focusing on VR technology? As a Champlain College associate, the announcement for an implementation of new IoT hardware using Champlain College as a test bed was one of my personal highlights.
Here's The Breakdown
It's hard to make it to every event, there were over two dozen Burlington Innovation Week options to choose from. These are geared to benefit local entrepreneurs whose time is often limited. Most people in this environment are overbooked as it is. So, just in-case you missed a few, I've compiled quick highlights of the five biggest gatherings and their key takeaways.
HackVT: Building Apps to Educate
Hack VT is a 24 hour long coding session for teams or individuals to build an app centered around a designated theme. In true Vermont spirit, the theme is always something environmentally sustainable and or educational. Prep work prior to the kickoff of the event is not allowed. Fellow programmers, friends and strangers came together in teams to see who could create the best app in the small window of allowed time. The process required a clear vision, skill, and coordination. The final product is scored based on: execution of educational theme, innovation, ambition, user experience, presentation quality/impact, overall quality, and an “other” category which refers to policies about “brought” code. This was the 6th annual HackVT, the theme was education and the first prize winner went to Team TBD for their app called Code Sheppard. The app they created allows professional to interact with students by checking their work, engaging in video chats and follow along with the student's progress.
Innovation Slam Featuring UVM Alums
Two days later, on the 17th, UVM launched their own event “Innovation Slam”. A slam is a lightning round of presentations from a variety of different speakers. In this case, each presenter was only allowed one slide and given a time limit of five minutes.This event was meant to show what UVM students, faculty and Alums had to offer in terms of entrepreneurialism, technology, and innovation. Six alums each give a presentation about their companies. The six speakers as well as nine other UVM affiliated entrepreneurs had stations set up so that anyone could go up to ask questions and learn from their experiences working in the field.
This event was a great opportunity see a lot of extremely interesting projects from professors, students and alumni that have formed companies that look like they’re ready to do really well
- Lizzy Pope, assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Beer and Gear
The Beer and Gear social on October 17th allowed attendees to use the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, which are two incredibly powerful virtual reality helmets. Demonstrations of VR ranged from video games to potential advances in medical technology. That is quite the range and it could probably keep anyone with even a mild interest entertained for hours.
Here are a couple quotes from a volunteer at the event, Kip Steele, an IT QA and Testing Program Manager at The University of Vermont Health Network, that talk about the financial gains and medical advances predicted to come with the rise of VR.
Statistically speaking by 2025 we’re assuming [there’s] 300 billion in market share that would come out of VR based companies and AR… There’s a lot of money to be made” – Kip Steele
VR allows for total immersion into an environment. For doctors or practitioners or nurses they can see surgeries, we can see everything that’s going on around them and with the Gigabit we can do surgeries using a Da Vinci Machine where we might be having a surgeon here and then a patient in Kansas City” – Kip Steele
LoRa: The Future of IoT now at Champlain College
The "Internet of Things" is a term that people have been throwing around for a long time now. But what actually is it? The Internet of Things is an interconnected ecosystem of things people use in their daily lives. Imagine coffee makers, fridges, lighting, heating, washers, drys, etc. all being connected to the internet. everything will be connected and everything will be controllable with smart devices. It is predicted that by the year 2020 there will be 24 billion IoT devices installed around the world (Business Insider).
Read more about the Internet of Things here on Business Insider's website.
New industry changing IoT (Internet of Things) equipment will be introduced into the Burlington area starting with Champlain College. On the 18th of October a press release went out announcing the “Internet of Things (IoT) Testbed Project”. The press release talked about how LoRa radios would be installed in an experiment with two goals in mind. The first goal is to see if these technologies can monitor when there are open spaces in the often crowded Champlain parking lot. The second goal is to see if this technology can help keep track of the bicycles Champlain uses for their ChampRides program. LoRa technology is cheaper to implement than WiFi or cellular data and it covers a much larger area (currently up to three miles) given the size of its hardware.
The Founder of Prolucid Technologies, Darcy Bachert came to Burlington to install the sensors and here’s a snippet of what he said in an interview with WPTZ about LoRa:
The cost of entry is relatively cheap. You can install these to track personnel, you can tell if somebody is doing a bad back bend. It allows makers and inventors to take these small sensors and put them together into a much more sophisticated system and take all sorts of calculations off of that and make a much smarter product” – Darcy Bachert
10th Annual Tech Jam
Lastly, the 10th annual Vermont Tech Jam event was held in Essex on Friday and Saturday, October 21st and 22nd, at the Champlain Valley Expo. This event was a way for Vermont’s community to gather in one place in order to find job opportunities and interact with everyone from industry leaders to local start-ups. Tech Jam is a display of tech companies and organizations Vermont has to offer. Seventy-one businesses and government organizations attended this year. There were the big players like the University of Vermont Medical Center, Dealer.com, MyWebGrocer, and Green Mountain Power. As well as up and comers like: Excelerate Essex, ThinkMD, Beacon VT, Matt & Erik Design, and Protean, which were the top five finalists for the Tech Jam Startup Award.
This event catered to students, graduates and anyone currently working in or looking to work in some technical related field. The company industries ranged widely, including: aerospace, cyber security, education, financial technology, marketing, IT solutions, media, product design, manufacturing, and telecommunication infrastructure. That is only a portion of the industries that were represented, there were many more. The Vermont job market has plenty of opportunity, you just need to know where to look and who to speak with.
Tech Jam sends a message that Vermont isn't just about dairy farms and covered bridges. There are a lot more innovative things happening in the state” -- Cathy Resmer
One of the main attractions at Tech Jam was the Maker’s Faire, which had interactive displays built by kids and others built for kids. This was in an effort to get children interested in engineering, robotics, and other technical fields.
In the same interview with Cathy Resmer, Dan Roswell a huge proponent of the Maker’s Faire said
It’s all about building robots getting children interested in science and technology, thinking about pursuing careers and getting them off to college… In order to compete globally we can’t out produce China, we can’t out produce India, we need to be creative, we need to automate and we need ingenuity and we need to build the kind of products that are quality, Vermont made things that we can export” – Dan Roswell
Innovation Week and Tech Jam was an incredible opportunity for businesses, students, job seekers, and the general public to learn about what Vermont has to offer them. It was designed to spark interest and to help retain current and future members of the workforce by showing them that Vermont is a hot bed of new ideas and technology.
Most of the events were open to the public and the majority of the events were free.