Innovation Summit aims to shatter 'barriers' to thriving Berkshire economy
WILLIAMSTOWN — A long list of innovative products have been made in the Berkshires, but an economic ecosystem is needed to help that practice continue to grow and thrive.
Efforts are already underway to develop such a structure, and on Thursday and Friday participants and practitioners of these activities gathered at The Williams Inn to share their experiences at the inaugural Innovation Summit, sponsored by North Adams-based startup incubator Lever.
"Brent and I have been blown away by the amount of innovation that's been sequestered inside the walls of our great companies," said Lever Executive Director Jeffrey Thomas, also referring to the firm's director of innovation, Brent Filson. "Our goal is to build awareness of it in both depth and breadth."
The event's secondary goal was to create more awareness in the community at large of the Berkshire's innovation economy, and to discuss ways of strengthening the economic ecosystem to support the local innovation economy. One of the challenges that Berkshire innovators face is the when that ecosystem changes, he said, the county's traditional barriers like topography, geography and provincialism often come into play.
The summit did a good job of "breaking down those barriers," Thomas said.
More than 250 people attended the two-day event, which included panel discussions, two keynote speakers and Lever's first intrapreneur challenge.
"It was about what we expected," Thomas said, referring to the attendance.
Carlo Zaffanella, the vice president and general manager of maritime and strategic services at General Dynamics Mission Systems in Pittsfield, was Friday's keynote speaker. Williams College graduate Steve Case, who co-founded America Online, spoke at a reception on Thursday.
In his keynote speech, Pittsfield native Zaffanella said he discussed ways General Dynamics can assist the new Berkshire Innovation Center at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires in Pittsfield.
Construction of the $13.8 million workforce training and equipment center is scheduled to wrap up this month, but the structure won't open until January. Zaffanella said he was interested in having personnel from General Dynamics teach classes at the BIC. In a further demonstration of community unity, he said General Dynamics is planning to hold its national suppliers conference in Pittsfield this spring.
Ben Sosne, the BIC's executive director, said his organization would welcome General Dynamics' assistance.
"General Dynamics has been a foundation member of the BIC," he said. "They care about the region."
Friday's program included a panel discussion featuring seven Berkshire County-based innovators in the morning, followed by a discussion that included five members of regional innovation centers in the afternoon. The pros and cons of building an economic ecosystem to support innovation in the Berkshires were discussed by the afternoon panel that featured two Berkshire-based members: Filson and Stephen Boyd, the president of Boyd Technologies in Lee, who also chairs the nonprofit organization that runs the BIC.
"We're working on a strategy so that we can grow from where we are today," Filson said, referring to Lever's various entrepreneurial challenges as an example. "I see more of that happening in the future."
Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at email@example.com or 413-496-6224.
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