More than 2,000 attendees are expected to attend the 2023 Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit, Director Kris Adams said. The summit will convene at the Rogers Convention Center from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1.
They’ll come from as far as Toronto and the East and West coasts. Adams said others will arrive from Austin, Texas; Dallas; the Kansas City metro; and Tulsa. Last year, the event had 1,700 attendees from 28 states.
Adams noted that the programs for the four-day event this year will return to the convention center after outgrowing the various Bentonville spaces where the event was hosted previously. Still, the networking and social aspects of the event will happen in Bentonville.
The theme is the year of the machines, with artificial intelligence (AI) and automation as focus areas. Earlier this year, summit organizers launched an AI series hosted apart from the summit. The last of the series focuses on creativity and AI and is set for Sept. 21 at Bentonville Community Church. Attendees will learn how to use AI tools to expand on one’s artwork and hear a panel discussion on ethics and art.
“We want to build a tech community here in Northwest Arkansas,” Adams said. “So more frequent programming, expanded collaboration with other like-minded organizations — we’re going to be digging in in this space and increasing our offerings to the community for engagement for those who are tech professionals and tech fans.”
Some of the speakers include Tom Bianculli, chief technology officer of Zebra Technologies and multiple Walmart and Sam’s Club executives:
- Jon Alferness, executive vice president and chief product officer for Walmart
- Vinod Bidarkoppa, chief technology officer for Sam’s Club and senior vice president for Walmart
- Tim Simmons, senior vice president and chief product officer for Sam’s Club.
“We’ve got lots of upper-level Walmart participation this year,” Adams said. “We announced our theme early on, with the year of the machines and a focus on AI and automation, which prompted an interesting shift in the companies that wanted these high-level speaking spots.”
The kick-off event at the welcome celebration will comprise how technology drives regional economic development. The speakers are Robert Burns, director of the Home Region Program of the Walton Family Foundation, and Jennifer Hankins, managing director of Tulsa Innovation Labs.
Adams said event organizers are working to make the event more engaging and experiential. While it’s yet to be confirmed, he noted that organizers want to bring in Richard Browning, a jet suit inventor and pilot with Gravity Industries. Adams recommended checking out the TikTok videos of Browning flying his jet suit.
“We’re trying to get him into Northwest Arkansas to demo his jet packs,” he said, “so that people can say 50 years from now, when jet packs are as ubiquitous as vehicles that we drive every day, they can say they saw their first one at the NWA Tech Summit.”
Also, Adams said the event will include opportunities for attendees to test-drive autonomous and electric cars, such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Dodge Hornet.
“We want to push some of the experiential elements of tech so that people don’t just hear presenters speaking about it but get to engage with it in demo booths, at networking events in and around the conference,” he said. “See things they’ve never seen. Try things they’ve never tried.”
Organizers have many ideas for the 2024 summit and programming leading up to the event. Details have yet to be set, but Adams expects healthcare technology to be part of the event as the healthcare industry continues to grow here.
“This year, we’ve got tracks in everything from AI and automation to security/privacy, retail innovation, and advancing health access, equity and outcomes,” he said. “It’s a big umbrella for all kinds of different tech that is here in Northwest Arkansas so that we can showcase to those who join us from beyond the area that NWA is a tech hub and a formidable one, even among Silicon Valley and New York City with the level of expertise that we have here.”