Montana Senator Steve Daines started the Montana High Tech Summit at Montana State University this morning by introducing some of the 40 people who will speak.
Keynote speakers include Dr. Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel, Doug Burgum, former CEO of Great Plains Software, which was purchased by Microsoft, Michael Goguen, Managing Partner of venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, Will Lansing, CEO of FICO and former Right Now Technologies Board member, Dr. Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator for NASA, and Matt Rose, Chairman, BNSF Railway Company.
Daines promised a full agenda including lessons on how to turn a technology start up into a success. He encouraged attendees to tweet their thoughts and impressions throughout the day.
MSU President Waded Cruzado welcomed attendees to: “your university.” She says she called it “your university” because as a Land Grant University, MSU helped to usher in the industrial age and became a research center. Because of this activity, she said MSU has a strong community engagement and helps Montana to grow.
“MSU has been instrumental in developing and extending technology throughout the state,” Cruzado said. She continued, “MSU is now stronger than ever before and is the largest, fastest growing university in Montana.”
Cruzado predicts that when new enrollment numbers are released in a few weeks, a new record will be set for the size of the incoming freshman class, about 3,000 students.
According to Cruzado, needed investments are being made in MSU facilities, including residence halls, a new freshman residence hall, the renovation of the Miller Dining Commons and all without use of any tax dollars. The updates have been funded by tuition dollars.
She thanked businessman and MSU grad Jake Jabs for his gift of Jabs Hall for the business college at MSU. She also thanked Norm Asbjornson for a $50 million gift for a new engineering college building.
She also thanked Greg Gianforte for a one million dollar gift to the college of engineering to help guarantee student success.
She urged attendees to, “Hire a Bobcat.” She pointed to the more than 30 optics and photonics companies in Gallatin Valley employing more than 500 people. She says 15 of the firms were founded by MSU grads.
“The College of Engineering has registered an 80 percent increase in enrollment in the past 15 years,” Cruzado said.
“Montana State is committed to helping to grow the nation’s and the state’s economy with big ideas and bold adventures,” she said.
Matt Rose, the executive chairman of BNSF was the next speaker at the event.
Rose said that while increasing technology displaces some workers, like the automated kiosk replaced the parking attendant in the MSU lot where he parked this morning, this provides an opportunity for society.
“That former attendant can now go to MSU and learn a high tech profession that will give them greater opportunities and grow the economy,” he said.
He spoke about how technology is helping to make trains more efficient and safer. He says this system, called PTC, or Positive Train Control, needs more time to be perfected and to ensure that PTC systems from competing railroads will be compatible across the country. The PTC mandate is due to take effect January first of 2016. He says BNSF has invested $2 billion the program.
He said BNSF is one of three companies allowed to use drones to monitor and inspect rail tracks for safety conditions. “This technology is fundamentally changing the rail business even though steel wheels on steel rails has not changed in nearly 200 years,” Rose said.
Laef Olson, Senior VP for Oracle’s Cloud Computing center said that after 25 years his mother still has no idea what her son does for a living.
He says the purchase of Bozeman’s Right Now Technology, cloud computing firm, was the first of more than 20 such purchases across the globe. “Oracle is growing at about 15 percent a year in Bozeman,” Olson said.
According to Olson, Oracle supports MSU in a number of ways, including partnerships and scholarships. The Service Cloud business for Oracle is based in Bozeman. “More than 50 percent of the Oracle team that processes all of the company’s enterprise contracts worldwide is made up of MSU grads,” Olson said.
Olson said a new building is being constructed off North 19th at the Bozeman Oracle Center which will be the world headquarters for Oracle’s Cloud Computing services.
The founder of Right Now Technologies, Greg Gianforte, moderated a panel about how technology can remove geography as a constraint to economic and technology growth.
“The Montana High Tech Business Alliance now has 120 members, with one third in Bozeman, one third in Billings and the rest spread across the rest of the state,” Gianforte said. “The high tech sector is growing at ten times the rate of the rest of the state economy. If the growth continues, it will pass agriculture and tourism as the state’s top business in ten years. My hope is that it will not supplant those businesses but compliment them.”
When high wage tech jobs come into a community it fosters growth of other businesses and makes communities stronger, Gianforte said.
Dr. Dava Newman of NASA is a Montana native and followed Gianforte in the lineup.
According to Newman, NASA believes strongly in Montana and believes it should be a world-class technology hub. She said NASA invests $8 million a year in Montana.
Newman told the audience that she is an engineer and rocket scientist – she remembers as she watched Apollo from her home in Helena when she was five years old. Now she gets to work with Buzz Aldrin, one of the astronauts who walked on the moon.
Nature was a big inspiration for her in Montana, according to Newman. “A place to dream, a place to see what nature has already created,” she said. “My career really started in the mountains of Montana.” Since then she invented a new space suit for NASA and when she taught at MIT she challenged students to think ten years in advance.
Newman pointed out there were nine astronauts on the International Space Station last week. She says this is a first step on the journey to Mars. Newman is now working on an exercise suit for astronauts who lose muscle and bone mass in space.
Newman suggested to the panel and audience that STEM education be changed to STEAM – put in the arts.
She says she needs everyone, including artists and designers. “You don’t need to be the best, be proficient, but be creative,” she said. “This is needed to propel the US in innovation.”
She says NASA is making fast progress on the new SLS heavy lift rocket system and the CS100 capsule to go on top of the rocket. NASA is also working on ion propulsion. Slow and steady but starts slow and accelerates to 200,000mph.
She talked about the soon-to-be-released movie, “The Martian.” She says this movie gets most of the physics and other science right. She says we need to invest in these technologies, improve them and make them ready for use in space.