PITTSFIELD — Startup accelerator Lever is planning to hold a second innovation summit this fall, to build on the themes discussed during its inaugural event in 2019, according to executive director Jeffrey Thomas.
This year’s summit, titled “Innovating Innovation,” will take place Sept. 23-24, at a venue more centrally located for that purpose — the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield. It will include the final pitch contest of Lever’s Intrapreneur Challenge, which is underway, and three keynote speakers, including two heads of state agencies that are involved significantly in Massachusetts’ innovation economy.
Lever’s inaugural innovation summit, held in October 2019, took place at the Williams Inn in Williamstown. The North Adams-based nonprofit’s plans for a second summit, last year, were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The center, which opened officially in February 2020, is better suited for this type of event, Thomas said.
“Number one, the BIC is open now for this kind of event, and it wasn’t open the last time,” Thomas said. “Two, I think that gathering people around innovation is really the key premise for the BIC. Third, we winteract a lot with the BIC. ... I think it will strengthen the partnership there. And fourth, it’s nice to bring this event to the center of population of the county.”
The initial summit served as an introduction to innovation in the Berkshires, Thomas said, while this one aims to take that premise a step further.
“I think in the first summit, our goal was to highlight innovation in Berkshire County,” Thomas said. “A lot of what we saw happening behind the walls of these companies around the county was spread out, and there wasn’t as much awareness of the amount and the degree of innovation that happens here.
“The theme of this year’s summit is to talk about how we can innovate even better,” he said. “That’s why we have this sort of tongue-in-cheek subtitle for it, ‘Innovating Innovation.’
“What we’re going to really highlight in this summit is people who are innovating in new ways that we think are particularly relevant to our region: innovating within mature companies in rural economies and innovating for inclusion from people who historically have been underrepresented in innovation.”
Thomas said inclusion is expected to be addressed by the three speakers: Steve Nielsen, the CEO of Dycom Industries, a Fortune 1000 company with 14,000 employees; Kenneth Turner, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center; and Carolyn Kirk, executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the organization that recently partnered with Lever on the COVID-19 Innovation Challenge Series, which took place last year.
Nielsen and Turner will speak Sept. 23 and Kirk on Sept. 24. Turner served as director of diversity and inclusion at the Massachusetts Port Authority before being named to head the life sciences center in October.
Nielsen is expected to speak on how Dycom continues to innovate from within. Dycom, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is a leading provider of specialty services, including construction, engineering and program management that support the country’s telecom industry.
Kirk will highlight the commonwealth’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including MassTech’s partnership with Lever last year that involved more than 30 companies.
The Sept. 24 session will include panelists who will discuss rural innovation and diversity, equity, and inclusion in innovation, and answer audience questions. The summit will incorporate virtual and in-person programming, including an outdoor option for participation.
The Intrapreneur Challenge’s final pitch contest will take place Sept. 23.