Rob Katz

Pop!Tech’s Net Impact (Pun Intended)

PopTech logoWhat’s the net impact of Pop!Tech?? I’ve been thinking about my time in Camden, Maine a lot lately – never more so than while I attended the 2007 Net Impact conference this past week in Nashville (see, pun very much intended.)? In all seriousness however, my trip to Tennessee prompted the following questions: what is the impact of Pop!Tech and what will it do next?

Net Impact LogoThese questions are not accidental; the Net Impact conference’s theme this year was, in fact, What Will You Do Next?? With 1800 attendees and up to 16 sessions at a time (!) there is no one answer from Net Impact.? Despite the wide variety of experiences among attendees, the conference managed to communicate a clear theme: get it done.?Part of that theme stems from the fact that Net Impact attracts mostly MBA students – they are all about starting a business or at least working with organizations that address social and environmental problems.? I saw MBAs eager to be the next Claire Broido Johnson (of SunEdison) or Paul Hudnut (of EnviroFit) – two perfect examples of people who are “doing it next” through their work.?

(Side note: check out Paul’s excellent blog, What’s a BOPreneur? and his report from Net Impact.)

Pop!Tech, on the other hand, is just beginning to dip into the “get it done” arena.? This year’s conference, The Human Impact, seemed to be a departure from previous events.? Quite a few attendees described previous Pop!Techs as gadget-fests, featuring the latest innovative products and concepts.? This year’s conference, on the other hand, gave a lot of stage-time to problems, mostly environmental degradation and persistent poverty.? I’m not sure the old-school Pop!Techies were happy with this shift, even though the conference did a marvelous job pointing out the innovative tools, models, and ideas that are indeed changing the world – and featured some great “get it done” types, like Jessica Flannery and Van Jones (among others.)

So, getting back to my original question, what is Pop!Tech’s net impact?? In many ways, it remains to be seen – it depends how the Pop!Tech Accelerator and the Pop!Tech Carbon Initiative work, among other things.? These two initiatives are forays into the “get it done” space.? If they are successful, then Pop!Tech’s impact will grow.? If they hit some roadblocks, however, Pop!Tech may have jeopardized its hardcore audience in its effort to take its program to the next level.? (Side note: I’m confident that Andrew and co. can make it work.)

What will it do next?? For starters, Pop!Tech can continue its excellent programming.? I’d like to see invites to next year’s meeting go out to folks like Paul Hudnut and Claire Broido Johnson, for starters, as well as other get-it-done speakers at Net Impact – Cindy Cooper, Tim Prestero, Ben Powell, Cleve Justis, etc.

Ultimately, these are two vastly different conferences, but they can learn from one another.? Net Impact, in my opinion, can take a page from Pop!Tech’s book and sharply reduce the number of sessions and speakers – quality over quantity!? Not only that, but mandated, controlled networking – like Pop!Tech lunches – are the sorts of things that sets a conference apart from a series of lectures interspersed with a bag lunch.? Can you do Pop!Tech for 1800 MBAs in 2/3 of the time at 1/3 of the budget?? No – and I’m not asking Net Impact to.? But as Pop!Tech can learn from Net Impact, it goes the other way as well.