VOICE Summit 2018 head on Newark: ‘We already know we want to come back and do this here again next year’

Three-day conference, hoping to draw 1,500 attendees, has nearly twice that registered on first day

By Tom Bergeron
Newark | Jul 24, 2018 at 9:06 pm

There are all sorts of ways to quantify the impact the 2018 VOICE Summit had on Newark when the three-day event opened Tuesday on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology.

There are the number of registrations (organizers were hoping for 1,500 and had surpassed 2,700 by midafternoon).

There are the number of countries represented (eight).

There’s even the number of breakout sessions scheduled to take place (more than 125).

Then there this one: 240. Or the number of pizzas Joe Jiannetto moved from his food truck — before he ran out.

“We sold more than we were expecting, and we were expecting a lot,” he said. “And we’ll do more tomorrow.

“There was a guaranteed minimum, and we easily surpassed it.”

The same can be said about Newark and NJIT playing host.

How well did it go? It appears you can book Newark and NJIT for the second VOICE Summit.

Pete Erickson, the founder and CEO of Modev and the force behind the conference, said as much.

“We already know we want to come back and do this here again next year,” he told ROI-NJ. “With a whole year of planning, I think it can be exponentially larger and have an even greater impact on the (Newark) community.

“But, also, we can have a greater impact on the global voice community.”

Erickson said he knew coming to Newark — over finalists New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles — was a risk. But it was one he was eager to take.

“This was a surprise announcement to a lot of people,” he said. “It would have been very easy for us to pick one of the other cities; we would just have had to check a box.

“But, we wanted to do something different and we’re proving to people that are showing up to town why we did. So, we’re really excited about where this is going to lead, where the future leads to for us.”

Erickson thinks Newark’s future as a tech hub is easy to see.

“I think all the attributes are here to really a huge impact and be a very vibrant tech community,” he said. “I’m thrilled because I feel we have been validated.

“We chose Newark because we felt there was a strong community here that could make this happen. To see the validation here. To be standing on the floor, right before the keynote, and see there are 1,000 people here already is huge validation.”

These words are just what Aisha Glover, the CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corp., was hoping to hear.

She feels that, the more people who come to Newark, the more people will see its uniqueness.

“Newark is just the right size,” she said. “If you’re in a larger city, you may not have the benefit of sitting across from the president of large corporation, or across from the mayor. We are truly all-hands-on-deck here.

“And it plays into some of the reasons why I believe we landed on the shortlist for Amazon (and its second headquarters project). One of the reasons why we were so excited to be able to host VOICE is because it does play into some of our broader marketing efforts. It’s not just to land the next big corporation. This is really us leveraging what’s already here.”

Don Sebastian, the head of the New Jersey Innovation Institute, which is part of NJIT, agreed.

“The fact that (Modev) not only considered Newark but chose Newark over other metropolitan areas … says we are now on the map,” he said.

Sebastian said Newark will have truly arrived when more people look at the map differently — as Modev did when picking Newark.

“From afar, we look at Newark differently in New Jersey than people do from afar,” he said. “If you are in California, Newark is part of the New York City metropolitan area.

“So, it’s the reverse of us looking at Silicon Valley and seeing it as a dot on the map. They don’t think of themselves as a bunch of independent municipalities. These people did their homework and they saw all the things that we hoped people would be seeing.”

And while the Wellness & Entertainment Center shined as a host location, Glover is hoping the visitors see all of the city.

As much as Glover and her group wanted to prove the city can be a force in technology, she was hoping to show the city can be a destination point for conferences of all types.

“It’s way more people than we expected,” she said. “But the benefit of that is what happens afterward. Are they spilling out into the city? Are they taking advantage of what we have to offer?

“We have a bar crawl. We have a lot of things that we intentionally programmed to make sure these events don’t just come in, happen, and leave.”

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