Second Annual Think Big Festival Expands High-Tech Industry in Coeur d’Alene

Nick Smoot, creator of Innovation Collective and the Think Big Festival, celebrates a great festival with Labor Kootanai County Regional Manager Vicki Isakson.

Nick Smoot celebrates a successful  festival with Labor Regional Manager Vicki Isakson.

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but some of the best visionaries and inventors in robotics, artificial intelligence and technology recently gathered to share their ideas.

The second annual Think Big Festival took place Aug. 20-22 in Coeur d’Alene.

Nick Smoot, creator of Innovation Collective and the Think Big Festival, assembled many speakers from across the United States.

Think Big Brings Big Names to Idaho

The Think Big lineup included Dr. William Torch, a prominent neurologist who invented the keyboard Stephen Hawking uses which allows him to type using eye movements.

Marc Boudria, director for Chaotic Moon Studios, was also a part of the lineup. Boudria is continuing to work on ‘Watson,’ the artificially intelligent computer that outperformed its human opponents on the TV game show Jeopardy.

Also in attendance was Erik Finman, the 16-year-old founder of Botangle, an online education program that links students with instructors around the world. Finman was named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential teens of 2014 for turning $1,000 into $100,000 by investing in Bitcoin digital currency.

Three Days of Thinking Big

The festival started with an invitation-only summit of some of the leading innovators in science discussing the future of technology. An opening party later that evening gave all participants the opportunity to network as well as the chance to test drive the semi-autonomous Tesla P85D vehicle.

Panels and speeches took place the next day at the North Idaho College Schuler Performing Arts Auditorium. Christine Fox, assistant director for policy and analysis at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, gave the opening speech.

Fox previously served as the highest-ranking female official in the Pentagon’s history as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense. In her current position, Fox reviews the legal and ethical implications of robotics and new technologies.

The community was invited to Saturday morning’s events, which took place outdoors in Riverstone. Attendees were able to take part in hands-on activities. Drones were flying overhead, 3D printers were in action and Tesla cars were available for test drives. Company representatives and festival participants were on hand to explain the technology.

Coeur d’Alene in the High-Tech Scene

With events like Think Big Festival taking place in Coeur d’Alene, the town is gaining recognition as a mecca for high-technology startups and inventors.

“I am amazed at the growth of our high-tech sector in the Coeur d’Alene area. This is a direct result of events like the Think Big Festival,” said Vicki Isakson, regional manager based in Idaho Department of Labor’s Kootenai County office.

Ricia Lasso, regional business specialist with the Idaho Department of Labor, handed out surveys for Future Frontiers, a collaborative project between the cities of Rathdrum, Hayden and Post Falls. The cities are partnering to compete in Frontier Communication’s America’s Best Communities competition.

America’s Best Communities is a $10 million competition to stimulate growth and revitalization in small cities and towns in the United States.

If the collective cities win the competition, they will fund Future Frontiers, a plan to stimulate growth in the area of autonomously piloted vehicles. These vehicles can be used in fighting forest fires, search and rescue and agriculture, among other uses.

A company making autonomously piloted vehicles which had been courted by Jobs Plus, has decided to move to Coeur d’Alene.

The owner of the company said the Think Big Festival sealed the deal.

Vicki Kunz, workforce consultant,
Kootenai County Labor office