Next week a new festival takes place in our city called E-Town. Billed as “an intensive two-day festival of ideas for entrepreneurial-minded people who get excited by innovation, change and disrupting common thought,” the event is being organized by EEDC and takes place at the Shaw Conference Centre next Thursday and Friday.
“E-Town is built on an existing regional strength—a tenacious entrepreneurial spirit. The festival features not only a reflection on past learnings and stories, but a launching ground for ideas, change, self-growth and relationships. Attendees won’t be disappointed to meet and join the people in their city who didn’t just talk about their business ideas or leave them on a cocktail napkin. They put their ideas into action to get them where they are today.”
Tickets for the event are $299, but the impressive lineup of speakers should make that easy to stomach. You’ll get to hear from musician David Usher, astronaut Chris Hadfield, former WestJet president and CEO Sean Durfy, former Apple chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki, bitly’s chief scientist Hilary Mason, and founder of The Webby Awards Tiffany Shlain. On top of that is a series of panels and breakout sessions, and a concert featuring the Barenaked Ladies.
I asked EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson for some additional details on how the event came about and what attendees should expect. “We wanted to go bold,” he told me. “It speaks to brand development and confidence in Edmonton.” Brad explained that the idea was to bring the entrepreneurial community together, to celebrate entrepreneurship in Edmonton. “EEDC has the ability to assemble, to germinate the idea,” Brad said. They brought a group of local organizations focused on entrepreneurship together and said, “let’s go do something.” Co-hosting with EEDC are the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Startup Edmonton, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, TEC Edmonton, Junior Achievement, JCI Edmonton, Capital Ideas, Alberta Enterprise & Advanced Education, Alberta Enterprise Group, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Make Something Edmonton, and the Edmonton Executives Association.
It was important to the organizers for the event to be about more than just business. They wanted a mix of arts, creativity, business, entertainment, and education. “We are aligned by mindset rather than industry,” Brad told me. He cited C2MTL, LeWeb, and InnoTown as events that are similar in spirit to what E-Town hopes to become.
Commander Chris Hadfield will kick things off with a keynote on Thursday at 5:15pm. The Food Truck Fest (featuring Bully, Drift, Eva Sweet, La Poutine, Smokehouse BBQ, The Crooked Fork, The Food Fighter, and Yellowbird Café) and Barenaked Ladies concert will follow. The remainder of the keynotes and sessions take place during the day Friday, with local musician Martin Kerr closing the show at 6pm that evening. Check out the full schedule here.
One of the interesting things E-Town is doing differently is sponsorship. They’re really trying to get the speakers engaged and participating in the event instead of just plastering their logo all over it. Sponsors can choose to take part in the Emerging Questions Panel and then get interactive in what are called “exploration sessions”. Think whiteboards and interactive panels rather than talking heads. Sponsors on board include ATB Financial, the City of Edmonton, Parlee McLaws LLP, PWC, and Rogers.
While EEDC is supporting the festival for the first year, the goal is to have it both grow and become sustainable in future years. “We want to break even this year, and build the brand,” Brad said. In future years, additional days and locations could be added, making the event even more of a festival. More than 1000 attendees are expected to take part in the inaugural event, most of whom would likely be locals. That’ll change in future years as well.
I asked Brad why people should attend E-Town, and he responded with a question that has driven much of the event’s planning: “What do you feel the least prepared for?” The conference is an opportunity to explore what’s changing, and to get inspired by what’s possible. Don’t stay comfortable with the status quo, is the message. Brad also promised some surprises for attendees once they get inside (think of the impressive stage from this year’s Economic Impact Luncheon, amped up). “We want to show off what we can do with digital!”
As for EEDC, Brad says E-Town is an opportunity to “take economic development in a new direction.” They’re striving to provide value for money but also to make a statement. “We want to get people talking about it.”