Approximately 400 people recently descended upon AURA in downtown Portland, Maine, to attend year two of WEX’s Tech Talk Portland. The event brought WEXers together with others in the community who are exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are revolutionizing how we build software, interact with the world and conceive of opportunities for new products and services.
About the buzzy event, one thing in particular struck event organizer Kate Odden: “At a lot of events, you look around and see people on their phones. We didn’t have that at Tech Talk. Everyone was engaged. Their eyes were locked on the stage; that felt like a big win.”
What did the audience find so interesting?
This year’s event was packed with technologists such as keynote speaker Huma Abidi, Intel’s director of machine learning and deep learning software engineering. Following opening remarks by WEX CEO Melissa Smith, Abidi set the stage with her discussion about AI and the work that Intel has been doing in the space.
Afterwards, a panel of local experts convened—representing a mixture of entrepreneurs from local tech startups and leaders from companies that are entrenched in AI and have proven its lasting power. The panelists demonstrated the challenges and opportunities that companies are working through with these technologies while making sure that the discussion was aligned with bigger topics unfolding across the industry.
“We know that AI and machine learning are going to bring significant changes to the way companies use technology, and this will create a whole new set of insights, products and tools,” says David Cooper, WEX’s Chief Technology Officer. “These newer technologies can be confusing. Our objective for this session was to demystify those buzz words and start to get people thinking about how they can use these new capabilities.”
Panelist Bob Maus, who leads America’s AI/ML BD Team at Amazon Web Services (AWS), was able to speak to AI trends on a global scale. Meanwhile, Kay Aikin, CEO at Introspective Systems, and Shaun Meredith, CEO and cofounder of Omnic Data, LLC, contributed the startup perspective, while WEX’s Cooper spoke to our work with AI to date.
“There are a lot of great efforts in Maine to improve our technology profile; it seemed like the right time to bring this topic up,” says Odden, WEX’s technology communications lead. “While AI is not new on a worldwide scale, it’s still a very fresh and ever-changing topic in Portland. That’s why we were able to tackle something as large as artificial intelligence in this Tech Talk. Maine hasn’t necessarily been equipped to take part in a conversation about AI up to this point. Now, we have companies and citizens who can really engage, actively learn and come to the table with opinions.”
In fact, the audience was so engaged that there were 70 some questions that moderator Whit Richardson, a journalist and creator of Maine Startups Insider, could not get to before the event was closed.
The inaugural Tech Talk last year offered a broad-based introduction to Portland as a technology center and was extremely well-received. This year, we drew an additional 100 people to the event. The objective each year is to build on WEX’s profile as a technology leader and to raise awareness that Maine is home to numerous technology companies that are moving innovative solutions forward.
With events like Tech Talk, WEX hopes to set the stage for these kind of dialogues, create a community of technologists in Portland and drive that network forward.
“We couldn’t be happier with the turnout, the way that the program ran, the topic and what we’re hearing from the participants,” says Mark Dolphin, WEX’s vice president of global program and integration management. “There was so much energy in the room. We are already excited to start planning next year’s Tech Talk.”
Stay tuned for the tech topic we will explore together next!