17 reasons not to miss Inspirefest 2017, an essential sci-tech experience

31 May 2017

Read all of the below and try not to find yourself in the registration queue at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Haven’t got a ticket yet for the sci-tech event of the summer? Maybe this will convince you.

Inspirefest 2017 is just over one month away. Running over three days in Dublin from 6 to 8 July, the sci-tech extravaganza is not to be missed. Here are just some reasons why.

One stage, no messing

Attending conferences can be stressful when you’re trying to dash between stages to catch your favourite acts. Clashes can mean you have to weigh up one speaker against another and a multitude of goings-on means you can’t possibly catch everything. Except, that’s not the case at Inspirefest. Taking sci-tech to a theatre setting, Inspirefest centres on one stage in the grand surrounds of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. It’s a bold move that proves the Inspirefest organisers’ utmost confidence that they have curated the best line-up possible, worthy of their audience’s undivided attention.

This year, there will be a smaller second stage active during lunchtime with the option of keeping attendees occupied while they eat. So, really, the only tough decision you have to make is to come along.

No long-winded sales pitches

Anyone who knows Inspirefest founder (and Silicon Republic CEO) Ann O’Dea will know that she’s quite partial to the quote attributed to many famous writers and thinkers: “I wrote you a long letter because I didn’t have time to write you a short one.”

Keeping things short and to the point is hard, but that’s the requirement for Inspirefest speakers. Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell had to hone down an hour-long talk for her Inspirefest session and, so successful was that talk, she has gone on to deliver it elsewhere since.

Expect keynotes no more than 15 minutes long and panel discussions under half an hour (but be warned: you may be left wanting more!).

The hard-hitting tech themes

Artificial intelligence, data science, infosec, fintech, blockchain, the future of work, design thinking – these are the trends making headlines daily in tech. Get to grips with them at Inspirefest with perspectives from founders, investors and world leaders working in these areas.

Incomparable networking

Kelly Hoey literally wrote the book on good networking – something last year’s Inspirefest audience enjoyed a sneak preview of. Hoey’s influence also trickled throughout the event as she and many others made connections that will likely last a lifetime. (For example, Sinéad Burke is now chair of the Inclusive Fashion and Design Collective founded by Liz Jackson. They may well have decided this while in Accenture’s Women on Walls photobooth.)

At Inspirefest, you don’t just come to an event, you join a community.

Learning how to build a better business

From big business leaders to motivated self-starters, there’s always something to learn from the Inspirefest talks. The key takeaways can help you learn how to incorporate diversity and inclusion into your business, to enhance everything from innovation to productivity and profitability.

Straight-talking speakers

With the return of Astia founder Sharon Vosmek and gaming legend Brenda Romero to the Inspirefest stage, we’re all set for the kind of frank and open discussion the conference has become famous for.

The Pao effect

This summer will be the first time that famed investor, entrepreneur and start-up adviser Ellen Pao will speak in Ireland. Following a high-profile gender discrimination case, and her rise and fall as CEO of Reddit, the name ‘Ellen Pao’ became shorthand for Silicon Valley’s diversity and discrimination issues. Her story even coined the term, ‘the Pao effect’, when employees at other high-profile Silicon Valley firms followed suit with their own lawsuits.

Hearing from new voices

Encouraging and supporting unheard voices is one of Inspirefest’s core tenets, and this year’s event will play host to another first-time speaker in Ireland and internationally. Backstage Capital founder and managing partner Arlan Hamilton will make a rare on-stage appearance in conversation with fellow investor Vosmek.

Being blown away by phenomenal founders

Inspirefest is quickly building a back catalogue of fab founders amid its speaker listings (Nora Khaldi, Conor Hanley and Elena Rossini have all featured) and this year is no exception. Among others, you’ll hear from Sugru inventor Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, who has crowdfunded millions for her wonder material; Bart Weetjens, who is using rats to sniff out mines and diseases in Africa; and Smigin founder Susan O’Brien, who will be bringing her leadership programme for women to Dublin.

A different conversation on gaming

Continuing a trend that started with Brianna Wu in 2015 and followed with Brenda and John Romero in 2016, Inspirefest will once again host a different kind of conversation on game design and gaming culture. Brenda Romero returns to the stage (to the joy of many who chortled through her presentation last year) and she is joined by Tomb Raider lead writer Rhianna Pratchett and video game composer Eimear Noone, showing that the creation of blockbuster games takes in a whole spectrum of skills and individuals.

Science in the spotlight at Researchfest

The inaugural Researchfest was a resounding success, as eight gifted researchers spent three minutes each presenting their PhD projects to a packed audience at the Inspirefest Fringe. This year, Researchfest becomes part of the main event, with researchers taking to the stage over lunch on day one. Get ready to be impressed by the science communication skills that will be on display.

The best spot for STEAMy ideas

Look at any calendar: science and tech conferences are ten a penny. Inspirefest isn’t just science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), though. Since day one, this conference has advocated for bringing the arts into the mix, and what happens on stage reflects this ethos.

This year, popstar and Scissor Sister Ana Matronic will be on stage talking robotics; Raw Science TV founder Keri Kukral will demonstrate the beauty and logic of science; poet Kate Dempsey will be uniquely documenting the event at the Fringe; while Other Voices founder Philip King will deliver an unmissable performance with the support of Domhnaill Hernon’s team at Nokia Bell Labs. No other event fuses STEM and the arts quite like this one.

Investment opportunities

One of the key developments to emerge at Inspirefest last year was increased VC and angel dealmaking activity as investors got to mingle with researchers and entrepreneurs. This investor and angel interest was particularly piqued at the Astia Venture showcase held alongside the main event, where SoapBox Labs founder Patricia Scanlon secured Ireland’s second-largest funding round for a female founder.

The Astia Venture showcase will return in 2017 along with an Investor Masterclass on the second stage during lunchtime on Friday, 7 July.

The Fringe benefits

The Inspirefest Fringe is becoming legendary in its own right. Taking place in the evenings after the conference wraps up, year one had one of those you-had-to-be-there moments, with Little Green Cars and the first Inspirefest appearance for Sinéad Burke, who found herself part of the main event the following year. We’ve seen all sorts on the Inspirefest Fringe stage, from spoken word to LED-lit dresses, stimulating discussion and musical magic from Lisa Hannigan, Wyvern Lingo and more.

Details of this year’s Fringe are yet to be announced but what we do know so far is that attendees won’t have far to roam. Facebook and Airbnb are kindly hosting evening events in their Silicon Docks offices. Worth a visit for a nosey inside these amazing spaces alone!

Inspirefest Fringe 2016

Clockwise from left: Getting to grips with science and tech, Zoe Philpott as Ada Lovelace, Lisa Hannigan, and Echo Brown, all at the Inspirefest Fringe 2016. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

As well as the evening Fringe events, Inspirefest also hosts a special one-day Family Fringe that’s free for all to attend, but beware: space is limited and some elements require prior registration. Kindly hosted this year by The Dock – Accenture’s brand spanking new Grand Canal research hub – one session sure to see high demand this year is the Soft Robotics Toolkit workshop. Further details on Family Fringe events will be revealed soon, but expect games and coding sessions, as well as a special family space show.

Delicious food for thought

As well as feeding your brain, Inspirefest will feed your stomach, with lunchboxes catering to an array of tastes and diets from quality-of-life services company Sodexo Ireland. Last year’s lunches were packed to the rafters with drool-worthy (and healthy) goodies, and all leftover boxes were sent to FoodCloud, which redistributed them to humanitarian agency CARE.

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The core Inspirefest conference on July 6 and 7 is an all-ages event (with some very occasional swearing, mind, so parental discretion is advised if you’re bringing pre-teens) and there have been speakers and attendees as young as 10 years old at the event. If you want to bring a STEM-mad kid along and put a smile like this on their face, get yourself a guardian and child ticket, and your under-18 companion goes free.

Being inspired

Hatch Analytics founder  Monica Parker described the Inspirefest experience best when she said: “Inspirefest is a magnifier. You leave it believing you are able to achieve more.” Brenda Romero has dubbed it “the best conference for bright minds in Europe”. Sharon Vosmek said “Not since TED Talks have I learned so much and left so inspired, though TED could learn a bit from Inspirefest’s speaker sourcing.”

There’s only one way to find out what they’re on about.

Tickets to Inspirefest 2017 are available now.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.