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Start-ups, techies flock to Santa Monica for Silicon Beach Fest 2013

Panelists at SBF's responsive design discussion
Panelists at SBF's responsive design discussionLindsay Holloway

Silicon Beach Fest started off with a bang on Wednesday afternoon with SBF Demo Day at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, showcasing some of SoCal’s best and brightest start-ups, such as Enplug, Prevoty, Atlas and Wallaby. (I actually had the honor of meeting the brilliant folks at Enplug at Be Great Partners' launch party the week before.) Meanwhile, other start-ups were getting firsthand help with obstacles and problems in the interactive Crowdstorming workshop, and tech-savvy ladies were lunching and networking at the Digital Women Luncheon at Sonoma Wine Garden at Santa Monica Place.

Energy was still high Wednesday night at the Demand Media-sponsored opening party in the Viceroy Hotel’s hip courtyard and pool deck, where local independent radio station KCRW provided the soundtrack for the evening. Pitches and Q&A were on spot, with marketing reps, tech gurus, start-ups and investors alike playing their A-game in the start of a four-day tech extravaganza that would feature panels, workshops, brainstorming sessions and networking events.

While mingling poolside, I met Jason and Joey with Box of Plenty, an innovative smart box that automatically replenishes goods, from office supplies to toiletries, as they’re removed from the box. Based in Downtown Los Angeles, the infant start-up has three clients on the beta version of its product and is looking to expand particularly in the business space. I also met some folks with Stockr, a Santa Monica-based social network for finance folks to talk and get up-to-date information on stocks and trading.

Thursday was the first full day of the Silicon Beach Fest, jam-packed with various panels and workshops in start-up, developer, digital and fashion tracks and more. To no surprise, many session discussed social media, web advertising and mobile content – and particularly how all those things relate. The Social Advertising and Measurement panel featured folks from Shift, Marketshare, Facebook and Pinterest, each sharing their experience and knowledge of what advertising means today and how to get the most measurable – and profitable – results on social media. Said Marc Vermut, a strategist at Marketshare, “If you take one thing away from me today, take this: Keep your data. Without it, you can’t make any analysis. And without analysis, you can’t make any decisions.”

In the responsive design session that afternoon (Are You Future Friendly? Responsive Design Now), web designers from Slate Studio, Philosophie, Iconmobile, Huge and event sponsor Demand Media shared their insight on knowing when responsive web design is the best choice for a company. Computing devices have changes dramatically over the years and so have their users, so “you can’t assume everyone wants to do the same thing on every platform,” said Judd Schoenholtz, user-experience director at Huge, who was involved with developing Newsweek’s responsive website. “At the end of the day, they just want to access content.” So it's up to the company's website to “sniff out” what device they’re using to create the best user experience, added Skot Carruth, managing member at Philosophie.

Opening speaker Ravi Sawhney, designer and CEO at RKS Design, said it best with a quote from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The expansive shared workspace at ROC – Santa Monica’s Real Office Centers in the old Google building at 6th and Arizona – was the place to be on Friday. Sessions covered every topic a start-up needed to know: PR, legal, finance and more. Other sessions offered tips for every stage, from launch to sale, in the social media business. The Startup Showcase Finals took place at ROC that afternoon, after an intense semifinals round Thursday morning. After sunset cocktails on ROC’s rooftop, Friday night’s party, sponsored by Cornerstone OnDemand, was back at Cross Campus.

Following up two big days of education, expertise, networking and more, Saturday was a bit more mellow. The day kicked off with a spin class at Soul Cycle and organized basketball, surfing and volleyball down at the beach. The schedule was less packed with panels and workshops, too, covering some more niche topics, such as arts and entertainment, health tech, government tech and socially conscious initiatives.

At the closing party that night, the energy was much more subdued than three nights prior when attendees were running on all cylinders and eager for what was to come in the second year and third installation of Silicon Beach Fest. The inaugural fest was in June 2012 and attracted 2,000 attendees over the three-day event. A one-day fest was held in Hollywood in November 2012. Festival director Kevin Winston conceived the idea for the Silicon Beach Fest that year after attending the famous South by Southwest interactive music and entertainment conference that is held in Austin, Texas, every March.

Despite a smaller crowd and being more subdued, the party went will into the night past its 9 pm “end time.” Sponsored by Media Temple, the party was held at ROC and was highlighted with free-flowing alcohol, finger foods, a photo booth and great conversation.

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