April: Tech is the New Keeneland
Engineers, Creatives, Coders Flock to the Bluegrass
by Kakie Urch
April has always been one of the best months in Lexington. Fast tulips, pretty horses. Sundresses. Bourbon. Tote tickets. Bright-colored silks. And now, geeks.
Thanks to the efforts of a dynamic volunteer group called In2Lex, the technology
incubator Awesome, Inc., the city-sponsored Creative Cities Summit, ProgressLex and the University of Kentucky, the thoroughbreds of the Keeneland meet share the spring spotlight with technology and creativity.
This isn’t something new that’s been mocked up for April. It’s an extension of
the culture that’s been growing in Lexington quietly, cleanly for years. What In2Lex and some innovative thinkers in local government, grassroots, arts and business groups have done is to round ‘em up for us, provide a central focus. Nearly every day in April in the
Bluegrass boasts an event designed around technology and creativity. More than 25 events are planned for the month.
As the Creative Cities Summit, which was scheduled to open with keynotes featuring
Richard Florida, the author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” and moves into its second day, the events ranging from a “No Mercy Night” gaming event at Bakers 360 to a prestigious TedX event at Buster’s Backroom and Billards to a MobileX conference
at Awesome Inc. focusing on mobile applications to a Tinker event for inventors show that Lexington’s creative and technology classes are already doing lots right.
“Lexington has a vibrant and growing community of people who thrive on creating
innovative approaches to business, society and the arts. Events we sponsored last year, such as Geeks Night Out and Pecha Kucha, demonstrated a strong base for events on a much bigger scale,” said IN2LEX chairman Ben Askren, a systems integration engineer with Lexmark. Askren and his group have been working for more than a year to create a
strong clearinghouse and information center for the many engineering, technical and
creative professionals and events that already make up a tech landscape in Lexington.
The area’s reputation for the finest horses, bourbon and basketball teams
sometimes obscures the fact that the Lexington metro hosts high-tech businesses
that employ more than 6,000 people. IBM Lexmark, HP, ACS, IBM, Belcan
Engineering Services, Mersive Technologies, Neogen Corporation and Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals, Inc. It also has many smaller and highly talented entrepreneurial companies with national reputations and clients. We’re also home to Fark.com – the
wildly successful Internet “weird news” aggregator founded by Lexingtonian Drew
Curtis that recently inked a deal with USAToday to provide that organization with the best in “crazy headlines.”
We’re home to the innovation that is Alltech – the worldwide innovator in animal
feed that was started in the local equivalent of a Palo Alto garage – a Jessamine County shed. Alltech is sponsoring both the World Equestrian Games and the Creative Cities Summit conference. And they make a pretty good little bourbon
barrel beer – Kentucky Ale. All this from an Irish guy with a Ph.D. and a dream.
We’re home to Awesome, Inc., a technology incubator that provides co-working
space, dynamic mobile technology and computer training and entrepreneurship
support for young people. The incubator, led by Brian Raney of APAX and Luke Murray, has launched more than 10 companies and has been on a 5-city tour bringing its outstanding MobileX mobile technology conference to other cities around the country. (The Victory Lap is planned for right here in town, April 16, when MobileX will hold another Lexington event. Last year’s featured Noah Kagan formerly of Facebook and Mint.com, Sam Soffes, renowned iPhone app creator, and Brendan Lim, Intridia’s Ruby Rails expert).
We’re home to groups like ProgressLex, a grassroots group that is planning an “unconference” on April 17 to quickly turn the local energy from the Creative Cities Summit into action plans. We’re home to innovative spaces like the Distillery District, the redevelopment of the North Side and Cheapside and to innovative artists who enliven everything from parades as the March Madness Marching Band to Gallery Hop and Fourth Friday.
We’re home to an extraordinary university Engineering Department, with its new Visualization Center rising on Rose Street behind that basketball shrine. Oh, and we’re home to the basketball coach who has the most Twitter followers in the game. (@ukcoachcalipari >1.4 million). And, according to In2Lex, Lexington in 2009 was ranked No. 13 in the national list of Top Hotspots for Young, Talented Workers, Midsize Magnets by NextCities and No. 6 among the best Mid Size Metro to Launch a Business by CNN/Money.
These are the kinds of elements that Richard Florida recommends that cities develop when he looks at how to jumpstart growth in a new post-industrial economy. Lexington has already been developing these. And people coming to town for the Creative Cities conference have noticed. “My experience here has been fantastic. I have met what I would consider a disproportionate number of creative, innovative people here. For a city this size, the number of people that I have met, I have been terribly impressed,” said Peter Kageyama of Creative Cities Productions, which is organizing the Creative Cities Summit.
Kageyama said “There is an incredible group of people here and this conference
is an opportunity for them to get together. I am surprised at the number of people who I thought might know each other are meeting for the first time at our meetings.”
Kageyama, who will be a moderator throughout the Creative Cities Summit, says he has been to Keeneland. (And while in April, Technology is the New Keeneland, both Creative Cities and TedXLex are planning Keeneland outings for attendees.)
“I was very taken with that. It’s one of those authentic Lexington experiences. It’s certainly part of your culture, your DNA. That should be celebrated.”
But can the horse brand be too strong? “The brand of Lexington is so associated with the horse and horseracing. And to have a brand that strong can sometimes take attention away from being a good place to start a company or from venture capital,” Kageyama, an attorney by training who has a background in interactive advertising agency work, said.
“I come from a place that has a similar problem. St. Petersburg, Fla. Florida is so strongly associated with Disney, with sunshine and having fun that people don’t think of it as quickly as a place that has smart people or as a place to start a business and so we have to work against that.”
But arts, education, innovation in Lexington have been a draw for Kentuckians and others for a long time (I will not type “Athens of the West. I will not type “Athens of the West”.) That’s in part because of UK. “UK has been a supporter and a sponsor. I’m a huge fan of university towns, especially having a university right in a downtown of a place.
I don’t think we could have done this without the force and the intellectual capital that UK spits out. They’re the factory that produces your creative class if you will,” Kageyama said.
So, here’s your guide to April Is….a month for picking fast horses and fast cities. “Timing is everything for community development. Sometimes you hit your
stride. I think Lexington is definitely hitting
its stride right now,” Kageyama said.
April Techs in Lex
Creative Cities Summit: This conference, presented by a non-profit and sponsored by the city of Lexington and others will unite leading thinkers dedicated to changing cities around the world with a focus on issues like retaining talent. Lexington Center, $199. Info: www.creativecitieslexington. com.
April 8: Creative Cities Summit: Speakers and activities
include: Tonya Surman,
Centre for Social Innovation,
Toronto; session on The Black
Creative Class; session on
Sparking Social Innovation in
Your City; session on Taming
the Car; performance by Ford
Theater Reunion; Rebecca
Ryan of Next Generation
Consulting, Madison, Wisc.;
Pecha Kucha session.
April 8: ukTech10: Faculty at the University of
Kentucky will demonstrate promising technologies. 4-8
p.m., The Penguin, 517 West Main Street. Info: www.econdev.
April 8: No Mercy Party. Test cutting edge video
games. Baker’s 360. Free. 8 p.m. to midnight. Wes Keltner
or Ronnie Hobbs
April 9: Social Media Club: Friday. Info: smclexingtonky@
April 9: Creative Cities Summit. Speakers and activities
include: Music by Farhad Rezaei; Charles Landry,
founder COMEDIA, author “The Art of City Making;” session
on “Small Towns and the Creative Rural Economy;”
session on “Using Art to Change Cities;” session on “Next
Generation Female Entrepreneurs;” keynote by Bill
Strickland, President/CEO Manchester Bidwell Corp. (2 p.m.
bus to Keeneland for participants).
April 9: Pecha Kucha Lexington Contact
kent@pechakucha-lexington or visit http://pechakucha-lexington.
April 16: MobileX Lexington: Awesome Inc., returning
from a 5-city tour, offers its second MobileX Lexington conference.
Focused on mobile technology and business development,
the event will include tracks for beginning iPhone
app development, investors, entrepreneurs and other strategists.
10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Awesome Inc, 348 East Main
Street, $100 in advance, $120 at the door. Info:
April 16-17: IdeaStateU: Teams of students
Kentucky’s public universities offer up their innovations,
entrepreneurial piteches, competing for for $100,000 in
prizes and awards. Lexington Center. Info:
April 17: Awesome Inc Experience for a Day:
Lexington’s technology incubator plans a day-long preview
of a 12-week boot camp that will be attended by 10 mobile
technology companies this summer. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,
Awesome Inc. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 21: CIO Practicum: Senior information technology
leadership program is by invitation only, for chief information
officers and other technology leaders. It includes
ongoing sessions to help build networks of leaders. UK’s
Hilary J. Boone Center, Rose Street. Info:
April 21: Five
Across: Five local entrepreneurs
pitches limited to
five slides and a $500
prize goes to the winning
pitch. 5-6:30 p.m.,
Awesome Inc, 348 East
Main Street. $10. Info:
April 22: Geeks’ Night Out: Creatives, tech-minded,
engineering minded fun, with beverages. 5-7 p.m., Victorian
Square, free. Info email@example.com.
April 22: Solar Powered Earth Day Celebration: 10
a.m. to 5 p.m., UK College of Engineering, free. Info: 257-
6262, Ext. 221.
April 22-24: Ohio Valley American Society of Civil
Engineers Student Conference: Public invited to most
events and competitions at 14-school conference. All day,
Memorial Coliseum, Jacobson Park and other sites. Info:
April 23: TEDx Lexington: A true coup for Lexington.
Speakers combine with TedTalks videos to spark conversations
about “ideas worth spreading.” Speakers include:
Kris Kimel, Bill Cloyd, Wes Keltner, Christine Kuhn, Jim
Embry, Marjorie Guyon, Jim Bates, Britt Selvitelle, Stanley
Hainsworth. Registration 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., program 9
a.m. to 1 p.m., Keeneland 1:30-5:30 p.m., Buster’s Billiards
& Backroom, 899 Manchester Street. Info: kentuckykent@
gmail.com. Registration closes April 9: contact
April 24: Buildycrunken: A Collaborative event is held
overnight and designed to help people talk about what
they’re doing and how to accomplish it. Previous
Buildycrunkens in Lexington have been very successful.
Free. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 24: Tinker: Inventors to show off their works.
Time TBD, Buster’s, free. Info: http://collexion.net/events/tinker.
The Google Fiber Ring project that inspired Topeka, Kansas to change its name to “Google, Kansas,” further inspiring Google to change its name to “Topeka” on April 1, is no joke.
The search engine giant is conducting an experiment as it moves into “experimental, ultra highspeed” broadband service.
The Mountain View, Calif. company asked cities to submit proposals to be a test site for what is being called the “Google Fiber Ring,” a fiber-to-the-home broadband service that is 100 times faster than currently available service.
At 1 gigabit per second, this broadband service would, for example, allow 3D-video conferencing for medical consults, lightning fast download of movies and a fat, muscular pipe for data and media in and out of the city.
Google hopes to test this service with “at least 50,000 and perhaps up to 500,000” people, and 1,100 communities submitted proposals, with 194,000 individuals sending responses by the March 26 deadline.
Lexington is one of those communities, with an effort led by Kelly Cain, Gary Burchfield, Jim Clifton and Scott Clark, with assistance from Rama Dhuwaraha, Lexington Fayette Urban County Government’s technology chief.
The Facebook page “Bring Google fiber optic trial to Lexington, KY” represents the effort and has more than 1,600 fans. Lexington did not change its name. It did not coin a cute slogan like “Google Plays In Peoria.” It did not create a YouTube video with a shark tank
scene. However, it is an education hub and business hub that is both rural and urban and is home to some visionary technology thinkers, the state’s major medical complex, a
research university, LexMark and HP. The 1gigabit per second rate, of course, would enable any community within that ring to accelerate, attract and launch digital
businesses. And, Lexington’s grid is already, conveniently….a ring….or at least a circle or two.
NOW WHAT LEXINGTON?
That’s the question that has inspired a group called ProgressLex, headed by Dan Rowland, Shevawn Akers, Ben Self and Graham Pohl, has planned a day-long “unconference” for April 17 at the Carnegie Center in downtown Lexington.
The group invites individuals, non-profits, corporations, local leaders (current
and aspiring) to come to the event 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
An “unconference” has no set agenda and encourages participation…. not just observation.
ProgressLex wants people to take the thinking from Creative Cities and put their passion for an idea together with local community members and plan a course of action.
To register for the event, go to www.nowhatlexington.org Get more information about the group and articles on current Lexington issues at www.progresslex.org ProgressLex is basing its work on beliefs including: downtown design excellence; smart, sustainable economic development; advocating for social justice; support of environmental justice;
increased support for arts and entertainment as a quality of life value. ■
By coincidence, or perhaps confluence, April is also a watershed month for geeks and technology users worldwide. April 3 was the official launch date of a device that is being touted as “magical,” or at least as a “gamechanger,” by most who have seen it. The iPad, Apple computer’s WiFi and 3G tablet offering, has generated enormous enthusiasm in
some sectors – especially amongst the engineering, technology, media and creative
professionals will be most affected by the iPad.
Considering the market changes ushered in by the introduction of the iPod and iTunes and the iPhone, creators, coders, architects and producers of content and digital experience in Lexington will surely have much to discuss about this device at April’s events.
In Lexington, the University of Kentucky Apple Campus Store – which can only sell to UK students, faculty and staff – was slated to receive between 10 and 15 iPads for
the Saturday (April 3) launch, according to Kevin McClurg, the Apple Campus store rep.
By today, the store should have its demonstration models for people to examine and more iPad in stock, he said.
For those not affiliated with UK, the Best Buy store on Nicholasville Road was scheduled to receive 15 iPads for the Saturday April 3 launch. It is one of more than 600 Best Buy
stores in the nation that will stock the device because it is also home an official
Apple Solutions Consultant. Best Buy employees expected lines to form at 5 a.m. for the limited number of devices. The first run of iPad devices was sold out through online pre-orders, with more than 90,000 sold on the first day. Some in Lexington who online preordered will have receive their devices by April 3 and others will get theirs by
April 12. The April 16 MobileX conference at Awesome Inc. is just one event where the
iPad and development of apps and content for the platform will be discussed. APAX iPhone developer Justin Raney will be giving a daylong seminar for beginners at Awesome, Inc. and sessions for investors and entrepreneurs are planned. The international communications studies community will certainly have
much to say about its potential at its 11th Biennial Kentucky Conference on
Health Communication, “Health Communication Theory and Practice,” April
22-24 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The event, sponsored by the University of Kentucky’s College of Communications and Information Studies, features many keynote speakers
who will address the use of gaming, interactive Web constructs and viral media distribution of health information.