VOICE, activated: Voice tech conference returns to Newark with high hopes for business community’s future and its own

By Tom Bergeron
Newark | Jul 16, 2019 at 11:29 am
From our print edition

Pete Erickson can rattle off all sorts of numbers for why business leaders should attend the second annual VOICE Summit from July 22-25 on the campus of New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:

  • 5,000: Attendees
  • 1,000: Students attending on scholarship
  • 400: Speakers and panelists
  • 250: Programs and panels
  • 125: Sponsors
  • 100: Companies at the startup expo
  • 25: Countries represented
  • 8: Height (in feet) of the Amazon smart home that will be on display

Then there’s this statistic: By 2022, it is estimated that voice-driven commerce will reach $40 billion.

Photos courtesy NJIT
Pete Erickson, the founder of the VOICE Summit, which will be held this month at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Erickson, the founder of the event, said the numbers are growing quickly.

It’s part of the elevator speech he gives to any company head who is wondering if they should find a way to implement voice technology into their business.

“Voice is a new user interface, much like the smart phone was to the internet,” Erickson told ROI-NJ. “You didn’t need the smart phone, you already had the internet, but as we went along, we figured out that smart phones were the next great interface and allowed people to access goods and services and opened up new market opportunities.

“Voice is the same way. It is something that, as it evolves over time — it’s not all here yet — we will start to see that using our voice has a lot of advantages across a number of different services.”

Erickson stresses that, while he feels the future is here, it’s not necessarily here now.

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but the era is here,” he said. “Just by virtue of hundreds of millions of devices now being in our homes, we’ve opened ourselves up to allow this market to mature.

“Voice is only going to start maturing. And just like when the smartphone came along and it wasn’t a must-have at first, it turned into one over time. (Voice) is going to follow a similar path.

“We’re at the beginning, so it’s hard for some people to see, but it’s definitely here and … it’s only going to  grow.”

The same can be said for the VOICE Summit.

Erickson hoped last year’s inaugural event would draw 1,500 people — it drew nearly double that.

It let him know there was great interest in integrating voice technology into the business community, which helped him shape this year’s event.

“Accessibility is going to be a big theme,” he said. “You’re going to see that more strongly at this year’s event. Voice technology lends itself to accessibility, giving access to jobs and to technology and to services.”

Students will be a big part of the conference.

“We want to bring the youth into this market,” Erickson said. “We want to show them the opportunities that they can build their career around.

“It aligns with our mission. We believe that human connection is vital, and we want to bring people together. And that means not only students, but people who are in a career transition. They’ve been displaced from a job and they’re trying to get a restart; they’re also eligible for scholarships. We view our role as being an avenue for those folks.”

Startups also will be a focus.

“We’ll have over 100 startups for our expo on Tuesday night,” he said. “It’s free for startups to come and have a cocktail table and network with investors and potential users and potential customers.

“And then Startup Alley stays at the event the whole time. It will be along the concourse, so they will have their own expo spot in a high-traffic area.”

There will be preconference workshops Monday and then keynotes on the mornings of Tuesday-Thursday, followed by breakouts in the afternoon.

Erickson said he was reluctant to promote any of the speakers, calling the depth and quality so high he feared he would leave too many people out, but he did note that KLM Airlines and Mercedes were expected to make big announcements.

And speakers from Pandora, Google and Adobe are expected to be highlights, too.

The biggest speaker, he said, will be Dave Isbitski, chief technical evangelist for Amazon Alexa.

Dave Isbitski, chief technical evangelist for Amazon Alexa, will once again be the keynote speaker.

Isbitski — an NJIT grad — will give the opening keynote for the second consecutive year.

Erickson said the event is geared for businesses of all sizes.

“If you’re a small business trying to get your hands around this, trying to figure out, ‘What do I do now about this new medium and how do I reach customers?’ you’ll get a strategy,” he said.

“There will be conversational design and development and marketing for brands that are trying to engage and reach customers in a new way. 

“There’s going to be a lot of knowledge transfer that’s going to take place over the three days for anyone in business. This market’s moving very quickly. I think that that’s one of the things that we try to stress with folks that are on the fence about the market right now, is that it’s going to evolve quickly.”

Once again, the same can be said for VOICE.

While the event is only in its second year, it’s actually more than a decade in the making for Erickson, who founded Modev in 2009, calling it a community of developers, engineers, designers, project leaders and executives.

The VOICE Summit is just one of the many things Modev has produced. 

“The event is being recognized now as the seminal event in the voice space and that includes everything from conversational design, development, marketing strategy, investors, startups,” he said. “We have the ecosystem and we have the opportunity.

“I laid out this vision that this will be a long-term growth conference.”

And, while Erickson and his team have been working on the 2019 version since the finish of 2018’s, plans for next year’s event already are underway.

“Next year, we’ll add in the content piece,” he said. “We’ll add in podcasting and livestreaming and all of the content services that people are accessing through smart speakers and using their voice in their cars and in their homes.

“That’s going to add a big element to the event. So, we’re already got planning underway for 2020 and beyond. I can see just a really solid growth plan.”

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