Rogue Valley innovators gathered at a sold-out Friday conference in Ashland to share news of their creative projects while envisioning what the future might hold for the local area.
Host Jim Teece, president and chief executive officer of the high-tech companies Project A and Ashland Home Net, cautioned that true innovation is difficult, but innovators can only move forward by risking failure.
"We need to embrace failure as much as we do success," Teece told hundreds of attendees at the Ashland Innovators Conference.
Held on the Southern Oregon University campus, the conference was created by SOU and the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.
Teece has been at work on a variety of projects, including a method to teach reading to visually oriented children who have trouble learning to read, and an app that helps people track good things they do in their communities and earn points.
Ashland-based Folium Partners, Inc. creates apps that provide supplemental content for books.
Fans of the novel Moby Dick, for example, can take a game-like quiz about the book or view whaling maps.
John Lee, president and chief executive officer at Folium Partners, announced a "hackathon" this spring and summer will bring together volunteer computer experts to develop a cheaper, better way for deaf and hearing-impaired people to hear Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays.
OSF uses an LED reader board with red letters to provide captions for select productions of plays. However, the process to create and run the captions is expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome.
If the computer experts can come up with a better solution, the technique could be used at theaters everywhere, Lee said.
"We could deliver the product for free to the hearing impaired community of the world," Lee said, noting the technology could potentially be used to provide lines in other languages or written annotations for complex plays.
Ashland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandra Slattery announced the launch on Friday of Ashland Business Resource, an online site that provides economic information and business news.
Southern Oregon Film & Television Executive Director Gary Kout noted recent successes in the film industry.
Ashland was named a top town to live and work as a filmmaker by MovieMaker, a national magazine, and a film partially shot in Ashland and starring Reese Witherspoon will open in movie theaters this fall.
Kout said Southern Oregon has beautiful scenery and a range of local professionals who can work on commercials and film projects.
For the future, he proposed the area brand itself as an ideal place to also do computer animation and post-production work, such as editing.
Los Angeles resident Jennifer Harlow, an animator for Dreamworks Animation, said classes she took at Rogue Community College, SOU and the California Institute of the Arts helped prepare her for her career.
"Being an animator was my dream," she said.
Her story inspired many members of SOU's Emerging Media and Digital Arts program.
The conference highlighted the first graduating class of EMDA students.
Students told about their aspirations, which included running social media campaigns for businesses and becoming graphic designers.
A bank of monitors showed assorted digital art and video projects completed by the students, and many handed out business cards to the conference attendees.
"I'm ecstatic," said EMDA senior Vaughn Swanson. "This is a great networking opportunity. To make it in this business and in this time, you need to network."
EMDA senior Amanda Denbeck already has a range of internships and projects under her belt, including work for Blackstone Audio audio books in Ashland and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.
"I learned how to work with clients and balance what I thought would be a good design with what the client wants," Denbeck said.
Ashland High School Principal Michelle Zundell said the school needs more high-tech devices for students, lacks computer science classes and needs more mentors to step forward, but is making strides in connecting students and teachers with the wider business community, including the high-tech sector.
She said 35 students had internships this year but that number will skyrocket to 135 students next year.
Community members have helped out in a variety of ways, from conducting mock job interviews with students to attending a February educational summit, Zundell said.
She said her next goal is to have more teachers visit businesses so they can see the relevance of what they are teaching.