“We were Zooming long before anyone else knew what it was,” CEO Aaron Price said.
So, it only makes sense that, as the group approaches its biggest event of the year, the Propelify Innovation Festival, it would continue to lead at a time when there is Zoom fatigue among us all.
Price sure feels that way. It’s why he promises that Propelify 2020 will be different than previous festivals.
For starters, it will take place over five days, Oct. 5-9. And it will be online just four hours a day, instead of the traditional single-day, all-day event.
The online format will enable the event to attract speakers from greater distances, Price said.
And technology upgrades — Price said he is hoping for television-production quality — will make it more than just another Zoom call, he said.
Oh, and it will be free.
“I know I say it every year, but I honestly think this year can be the best Propelify yet,” Price told ROI-NJ.
Propelify, which Price himself created in 2016, will use technology to bring in high-level speakers for a variety of tech sectors, including Public Service Enterprise Group head Ralph Izzo; the global head of Brand Horizon, Asha Sampath; and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang — as well Kathy Hannun, the co-founder and CEO of Dandelion Energy, a Google-backed geothermal energy company; and Marc Lore, the founder of Jet.com, which is now a part of Walmart.
This year’s theme, “Building a Better Future for All,” will play out with specific messages each day.
- Monday: Better Together (sponsored by McCarter & English), which is about social issues and how we can be more inclusive;
- Tuesday: Better Planet (sponsored by PSEG), which is about how technology is influencing energy;
- Wednesday: Better Wellness (sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health), which is about health care transformation;
- Thursday: Better Connected (sponsored by Verizon), which is about the obvious; and
- Friday: Better Bet (sponsored by Noom), which is all startup content.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation will be a key theme each day,” Price said. “And, now, since we have more focused around topics, it will be (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) rather than (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.).”
Price feels the shorter sessions — each with specific topics — will allow more people to jump in and out on a daily basis as the topic fits them.
Price, however, is quick to say that Propelify itself should appeal to anyone who wants to use technology in their current business, is thinking about starting a new business or just wants to do good in society.
“If you’re an entrepreneur or you’re an innovator in one of these industries, this is the place to learn about where your industry is headed,” he said.
“If someone is curious about how technology can play a role in the world, this is great place to be — especially so on the first day, when we’ll talk about how technology can play a role in social justice issues.”
Price admits he wishes there could be more face-to-face interaction — something he hopes returns in 2021. But he also knows this year could attract a wider audience.
“Not everyone can come to Hoboken for the day, we understand that,” he said.
And, he said TechUnited NJ is able to keep the event free of charge due to the efforts of dozens of sponsors — he cites longtime supporter McCarter & English as well as the other named daily sponsors.
Price said Propelify 2020 is not just trying to make the best of a tough situation — it’s using technology to make a tough situation better.
“At a time when maybe people are struggling and not so sure about what their career looks like — or what their business looks like — there is hope in this community,” he said. “There are corporations who are leaning into the tech community; there are startups who are finding a way to pivot into tech.
“This community always has been about propelling ideas into action for the betterment of society.”
After all, he said, that is the guiding principle of the tech sector.
“I do believe that the vast majority of people who are involved in the tech community are interested in it because it does help build a better future,” he said. “Many of us capitalize on that financially. And I think that’s finding ‘doing well by doing good’ is just fine. But I do think that there’s this idea that we can find efficiencies, we can make things better, and then actually improves people’s lives.
“We get a little hung up on the headlines of raising capital and well-paid exits and other reflections of growth, but, ultimately, it’s about how can we improve society. I think what I’m most proud of with TechUnited NJ is that this community is genuinely trying to leverage technologies to improve society. That spirit is alive and well in New Jersey.”