There was mingling. There was meshing. And there was even a real life cyborg. The Toronto 2014 Mesh Conference brought together a mixing pot of tech startups, tech giants and everything in between over the span of two days.
Partly held in a large loft setting, partly held in the swanky Drake Hotel, the theme of the conference—now in its 10th year—remained unchanged: The impact of digital on our lives.
After speaking with Stuart MacDonald, one of Mesh’s co-founders, it was clear what the event was trying to achieve. To inspire and to guide those through the digital age in every facet of life, whether it be through business, through media, through marketing or through society. Essentially, these four components “mesh” together to form the main talking points of the conference, and actually, form most of what impacts our daily lives.
Here’s a rundown of what transpired throughout the conference:
After a brief introduction, we jumped right into the presentations, kicked off by Mark Little, CEO of Storyful. Some inspiring words for the most part, Mark created Storyful to allow the power of social media, a major talking point at this year’s event, to lead the media revolution. Making several references to how social media likely assisted the revolution in numerous Middle Eastern countries a few years back, Storyful is pioneering just how digital is affecting the media in this day and age.
Next up was Neil Harbisson. Without a doubt, this was the highlight of the event. Neil is a real life human cyborg. Yes, you heard me, a cyborg. Whatever your vision of the future is, this should be in it, and I kid you not, I had goosebumps at one point. Neil has a permanent antenna that is drilled into the back of his head which has a small camera that connects to the front of his head. He is color blind and created the device so that he can hear colour instead of seeing it. The camera reads the light frequencies of different colours and this sends sounds to his brain to let him know which colour the camera is seeing. He even has bluetooth in his head. You could literally send phone calls to his brain where he would hear the sounds in his head.
At first the crowd was taken aback but then they seemed to realize that throughout his presentation he was actually making quite a bit of sense. No doubt, implanting technology in the body will be the next trend after wearable tech, although this will likely be in several years.
Neil is devoted to promoting his Cyborg Foundation, which helps humans to become cyborgs in order to extend our senses as well as to protect the rights of cyborgs. He believes that humans already have a mindset that will soon lead to more and more people implanting technology in their body. He gives the example of when our cellphones run out of battery, we say, “I’m running out of battery,” instead of, “my phone is running out of battery.” A pretty smart observation.
Another interesting topic was a panel discussion on the subject of smart cities. As some cities are starting to approach capacity, cities are having to adapt to these problems with some pretty innovative technological solutions, some of which is happening right here in Canada.
After lunch there were some breakout sessions at the Drake with some more intimate presentations. I chose to stick around to see Stewart Butterfield, president and co-founder of Slack. Prior to Slack, Steward was involved with numerous other startups, one of them which was acquired by Yahoo! which you might have heard of, Flickr. It was an interesting discussion looking at how digital can improve communication in this day and age.
Day two kicked off with an opening keynote from Maggie Fox of SAP. It was interesting to find out that their software touches 70% of the worlds GDP. One of the predominant themes in the conference is how social and digital are merging, and this was a big topic for Maggie and a large focus for SAP. The world is changing, software is changing, people’s desires are changing and as Maggie puts it, “we need to change with it.”
The conference chugged along with a discussion on funding, always a popular topic at these kinds of events.
Following this, Paul Ryan of the Yellow Pages Group took the stage. Yellow Pages is literally the perfect example of a company that needed to adopt digital to survive, so it was quite fitting to have someone from the company present. The discussion kept rolling back to how “content is king” in the digital age. Being listed on Yellow Pages is all well and good, but high quality content is really what is going to drive sales in this day and age. While not new, this was likely one of the biggest takeaways from the event and was a repeating topic throughout numerous presentations.
One of the more interesting presentations at the Drake Hotel was on the subject of startup marketing, a topic near and dear to many of the attendees hearts. With limited resources, what can be done to market your startup? The panel all pitched in and gave their opinions with a few disagreements along the way, especially on the subject of what startup marketing actually is. Humayun Khan from Shopify might have said it best when he stated that, “startup marketing is akin to gambling.”
Mesh also showed love for 14 tech startups by hosting them as part of the conference and allowing them to set up a booth for the attendees to learn a bit more about each of them. A vote allowed three of these startups—Backspin, Giveffect, and Kastio—to take the stage on day two to present what they were up to the audience.
What really stood out in the conference (other than the cyborg!) was the vibe. As mentioned, it was a knowledgeable crowd, where one would not just be inspired from the presenters but also from one another. Although the conference really tried to separate between the four Mesh streams (business, media, marketing and society), it was really hard to make the distinction between any of them as the conversation kept coming back to digital innovation and how it’s changing our lives for the better. It’s no wonder at all then, really, that the conference takes the name that it does.