Top 10 Highlights from FiReGlobal: Michael Dell, Lee Hartwell, Irwin Jacobs, and More

I can’t do justice to a comprehensive review of yesterday’s FiReGlobal (West Coast) conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle. Instead, I’ll just give a few of my key takeaways. The all-day event, organized by Strategic News Service, focused on how to solve some of the most pressing problems in technology, business, and society—in areas as diverse as broadband access, entrepreneurship, education, sustainability and the environment, political discourse, human health, and mobile devices.

The sweeping conference had the tagline, “Global technology driving local solutions.” Interesting, as that’s sort of the reverse of Xconomy’s mantra, which is reporting about local stories with global impact. But I think they’re two sides of the same innovation coin.

So, in “ESPN plays of the day” style, here’s my top 10 list from the conference (if only I had the video to go with it):

10. Setting up entrepreneurial zones. A panel led by Ty Carlson of Microsoft proposed denoting special “R&D zones” from Oregon to British Columbia geared toward supporting startups in fields like renewable energy, sustainable farming, and biotech. The idea would be to offer tax credits and other incentives to create a more entrepreneurial culture in the Northwest, especially in rural areas.

9. What government should and shouldn’t do. Investor and entrepreneur Martin Tobias of Seattle-based Kashless said, “Startups and investors can’t make a 10-year bet when you have a two-year tax credit.” Those conditions freeze out small companies, especially in costly ventures like energy. So government should create open markets and set minimum market sizes for new technologies, Tobias said. But it shouldn’t pick the technology winners themselves.

8. Northwest tech startups do the Olympics. Tom Guthrie, CEO of Seattle-based Twisted Pair Solutions, said his company has helped numerous agencies on the Olympic Peninsula inter-operate their radios—a key problem in disaster response and other scenarios. Twisted Pair, which is backed by Ignition Partners and other investors, is also working on a laser system to deliver broadband signals. Meanwhile, Paul Manson, CEO of Vancouver, BC-based Sea Breeze, talked about his company’s project to build a high-voltage, direct-current undersea cable between Victoria, BC, and Port Angeles, WA. This would be a fast, controllable power transmission component of a smart grid; it should be under construction by mid-2010, he said.

7. The world according to Dell. In a chat with Mark Anderson of Strategic News Service, Michael Dell said he is excited about China and the rest of Asia as fast-growing economies. He anticipates a U.S. recovery from the recession, but says, “I don’t think you’ll see an immediate snap-back.” And he likes South America as an emerging market (Dell does sales of more than $1 billion in Brazil alone). But Europe, not so much—he sees a lot of uncertainty in the workforce there.

6. Get ready for Dell smartphones. “Mobility is absolutely the theme,” Dell said. He was talking about the relative importance of desktop computers, laptops, netbooks, and mobile devices to … Next Page »

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