Tech’s tycoons speak at Think Big event

Moderator: Cd’A has grown as a technological town

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RYAN COLLINGWOOD/Press

(From left) Innovation Collective's Nick Smoot, Itron's Roberto Aiello and Voyager Capital's Erik Benson speak at the Think Big Festival at North Idaho College on Saturday.

COEUR d’ALENE — Eyes and ears from a sizable demographic were locked on Itron and Google tech executive Roberto Aiello.

European business moguls. Aspiring local entrepreneurs. Tech enthusiasts, young to blue-haired.

Each took in Aiello's sage words on investment at North Idaho College's Schuler Performance Arts Center on Saturday, the second and final day of the Think Big Festival.

He was just one in a laundry list of notable figures in the tech, robotics and energy industries to speak to the hundreds who attended five separate forums throughout the day.

Think Big, spearheaded by Coeur d'Alene-based Innovation Collective, attracted the best of the industry's ilk from engineering, business to academia.

Chris Dancy, famously dubbed the World's Most Connected Man for having between 300-700 sensors, devices and application monitoring his body, was in attenance. Billionare Peter Diamandis, founder of X Prize and Space Adventure, even conducted a live Skype session to commence the festival.

Ashley Llorens of Johns Hopkins University's world-renown Applied Physics Laboratory was also among the 18 speakers.

The decorated lineup came in part to help the Lake City set its tech footprint, the primary goal of Innovative Collective's and local entrepreneur Nick Smoot.

"All of these guys are here and dealing with the technologies you read about in Google, everything that's on the cover of Fortune. We stick them in a room, lock them down, and talk about what are the five things the robotics should be thinking about.

"They talked about how North Idaho should pursue it economically and be aggressive. Here having fun with each other, but also how to help our town. People who work at Space X and Facebook are all here and how to serve the kids of this town — that's pretty awesome."

Throughout the two-day event, robots, self-driving cars — one even parallel parked on Sherman Avenue — and drones were presented in the networking-friendly environment.

Even locals were exhibiting their own entrepreneurial pursuits and getting pointers from some of the world's best.

Tech-savvy 15-year-old Aaron Joshua, who helped demonstrate the drones, was taken aback by the collective brain trust in his hometown this weekend.

"It's exciting. I like to learn about programming, virtual reality and robotics," Joshua said. "Coeur d'Alene is getting bigger. Nothing is out of reach now that tech is growing here."

Smoot hopes the budding tech industry in North Idaho continues its ascent and will eventually be able to provide ample jobs that pay between $25 and $35 an hour.

Award-winning author and journalist Julian Guthrie, who helped moderate the Think Big event, has noticed the stark contrast in Coeur d'Alene tech culture.

Guthrie, who penned “How to Make a Spaceship,” grew up in Spokane and now lives in San Francisco, where she also writes for the San Francisco Chronicle.

"Growing up in this area, Coeur d'Alene was a very, very, different place," Guthrie said. "It's really neat to see what's happening here today. It's a changed place, other than the natural beauty. All of this ingenuity of innovation. It's pretty remarkable.

"There's things going on here now that are better than some of the things going on in the Silicon Valley."

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