The four-day Northwest Arkansas Tech Summit kicked off its first full day on Monday amid blown-out windows in the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers and downed trees in the parking lot, evidence of the strong overnight storms.
But attendees were focused on looking ahead; the theme of the conference was “What’s Next, After Next.”
Some Monday sessions were crowded while others were half full, as was a luncheon featuring Sujata Gosalia, chief strategy officer at Cox Communications of Atlanta.
Gosalia spoke about how technological advancement has made it easier for anyone to innovate and mentioned that the cable television company has its sights set on eventually providing customers with 10-gigabits-per-second internet speeds.
She also said the company is working on technology for the health care and agriculture industries and is discussing “smart cities.”
The afternoon keynote speaker, Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital of Los Angeles, spoke about “connecting people.” Backstage Capital is focused on minimizing disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are people of color, women or members of the LGBTQ community.
Hamilton grew up in Dallas and came out as gay at 16.
Asked on stage about her first entrepreneurial experience, she recalled convincing her mother to buy bulk candy at a wholesale club and selling that same candy for a profit at her elementary school, undercutting 7-Eleven with her prices.
She also talked about receiving bad marks on behavior at school for being curious.
“I was always kicked out of class because I would ask too many questions ... I didn’t know how that was possible in school, but I did,” she said.
Hamilton began working at age 15 to help support her family, and she published a magazine for several years. Asked about her disparate jobs, she said she convinced herself to not be afraid of trying new things.
Hamilton recalled struggling for a time to gain employment and being told it was because she was overqualified or not the right fit for a company’s culture. Now, she said, people say her overcoming that challenge is inspiring.
Another keynote address, by Bill Groves, chief data officer from Walmart Inc. of Bentonville, was canceled.
Crowded sessions on Monday included one with Tom Ward, senior vice president of digital operations for Walmart. He spoke about the retailer’s grocery pickup and delivery services, noting that autonomous vehicles are now delivering groceries in some parts of the state.
In another session, Ben Marcus, co-founder and chairman of AirMap, and Erik Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh’s grandson, discussed drone technology.
In addition, Dan Sanker, the founder of CaseStack in Fayetteville, received the 2019 Innovator of the Year Award at the summit.
Throughout the day, vendors lined the hallway outside the center’s meeting rooms, their booths piled high with swag and information on their companies. Most were Arkansas-based or had a presence in the state, but some did not.
The summit continues through Wednesday, with dozens of speakers on the schedule, speaking at several venues in northwest Arkansas.