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Tech summit works to fill Outdoor Retailer void with titans of innovation, 10,000+ attendees

FILE - Josh James, founder and CEO of Domo, interviews popular Mormon DJ Kaskade at the Silicon Slopes tech summit in Salt Lake City on Jan. 20 2017. In just its second year, the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit is on track to draw over 10,000 attendees for two
FILE - Josh James, founder and CEO of Domo, interviews popular Mormon DJ Kaskade at the Silicon Slopes tech summit in Salt Lake City on Jan. 20 2017. In just its second year, the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit is on track to draw over 10,000 attendees for two days of top-tier tech speakers and workshops. Organizers predict they can become even bigger than the recently departed Outdoor Retailers show.
Herb Scribner, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — While downtown businesses will be missing the energy — and economic clout — of the Outdoor Retailer trade show for the first January in 20 years, organizers of a homegrown tech convention are, in true entrepreneurial spirit, aiming to disrupt memories of the mega-gear exposition by creating an even better event.

"The Silicon Slopes Tech Summit will become Utah's replacement for Outdoor Retailer," said Clint Betts, Silicon Slopes executive director. "We expect 40,000-50,000 in the next three to five years."

Betts' prediction appears to be working its way toward reality. As of late last week, registration numbers had surpassed 10,000 — more than doubling the event's 2017 debut crowd of about 5,000.

In its second iteration, the two-day tech summit will feature a diverse and high-octane slate of speakers and workshop opportunities with topics including blockchain technology, marketing, leadership and product development.

While Betts noted a couple of highlights are yet to be announced, the schedule currently includes presentations by former Massachusetts governor, two-time presidential candidate and likely 2018 Utah senatorial candidate Mitt Romney; Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen; Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield; former Beats by Dre Chief Marketing Officer Omar Johnson; product engineer Caitlin Kalinowski from Facebook's virtual reality gear division Occulus; U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; BYU and San Francisco 49ers star Steve Young; and author J.D. Vance.

The event also includes a screening of Sundance Film Festival selection "Our New President," by Maxim Pozdorovkin and a concert by Provo-launched rockers Neon Trees.

Yes, there are numerous domestic and international technology-focused conventions every year, but local tech leaders say Utah's version is on a fast-track for popularity.

"Silicon Slopes Tech Summit is quickly becoming the go-to tech conference in the West," said Aaron Skonnard, CEO and co-founder of Utah online education company Pluralsight. "The speaker lineup is unparalleled with Alice Steinglass, president of, and Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow. This event will inspire you and provide an opportunity to network with tech's most influential leaders."

Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith echoed Skonnard's enthusiasm, and optimism, for the early and future success of the summit. Smith also believes the event not only has the potential to more than fill the void left by the departing Outdoor Retailer show, but could prove to be a powerful economic catalyst in and of itself.

"After going to a big tech event in Dublin in 2012, we ended up opening an office there," he said. "If you take 20 of the companies that come to the summit and they all open up 200 more jobs in Utah, that's nontrivial expansion, no matter where you are in the world."

And even though Smith will be speaking at this year's summit, he's more stoked about being an attendee.

"I'm more excited to listen than anything else," Smith said. "I geek out on this stuff. I want to hear how Adobe acquired (Utah company) Omniture and how Slack became the fastest company ever to reach a $5 billion valuation."

Silicon Slopes Tech Summit organizers are also hoping to leverage interest in their event by scheduling proximate to the state's most established, long-running and perhaps best-known event, the Sundance Film Festival, with run dates — Jan. 18-19 — that overlap the start of the Park City-based celebration of cinema that runs Jan. 18-28.

Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Scott Beck said his organization has been working to help grow the tech summit and believes it has great potential.

Beck also noted that replacing the winter Outdoor Retailer show, which had a scaled-up economic impact due to most of its 20,000 or so participants coming from out of the area, will be a process.

"It's a big hole, and it will certainly take some time to fill," he said. "Consumer-driven shows, like (Salt Lake) Comic Con and the tech summit are very local and don't bring the same level of economic activity as conventions do.

"That said, Silicon Slopes is working hard to develop their voice, and there's no doubt there is a vibrant tech community here that will help them get established."

Utah's tech sector continues to be the state's biggest economic engine, dominating job creation and boasting a growth rate of nearly 8 percent in 2016 that led the nation.

Downtown Alliance Executive Director Jason Mathis said having the tech summit at downtown's Salt Palace Convention Center not only helps downtown businesses start to see some rays of hope beyond the missing Outdoor Retailer event, but also places attendees near a vibrant growth area for tech businesses.

"I think, if you look at the tech sector generally, the trend used to be to locate operations at large suburban campuses," Mathis said. "That's changed dramatically, and downtown is playing a critically important role in Utah’s tech sector. Increasingly, tech companies are looking for urban office locations because they value the diversity and authentic experience that only an urban office can deliver.

"We’ve seen huge growth in the number of tech companies moving to the downtown area."

As Silicon Slopes Tech Summit organizers work to track with that growth, they also hope to cultivate a reputation for being a necessary resource for technology and innovation and its impact on, well, every Utah business.

"I think the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit is not only going to become a great gathering spot for future leaders, but the place you go to learn what's happening in the tech space and what it all is going to mean," said Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics. "A very powerful place where the best in tech is discussed."

For ticket information and the full Silicon Slopes Tech Summit schedule, visit