PopTech draws 700 to Camden

Posted Oct. 22, 2010, at 12:01 a.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — About 700 entrepreneurs, scientists, writers and other innovators gathered here to learn about failure.

“I’m an expert in being wrong,” said PopTech conference speaker Kathryn Schulz. “And I’m sorry to say it, but so are all of you.”

Schulz was one of the first speakers Thursday at the 14th annual PopTech conference, where the theme this year is “brilliant accidents, necessary failures and improbable breakthroughs.”

Schulz, author of “Being Wrong,” argued that on a philosophical level humans know and accept they are wrong, but that on a concrete level “we deny it, we get defensive about it, we blame someone else …”

In her 20-minute speech, Schulz said people have a feeling of being right, but often don’t have a feeling of being wrong — only of the ramifications afterward.

“We need each other to help us find our own mistakes and turn them into better ideas. Better oil rigs. Better financial markets,” Schulz said.

The author is one of more than 50 speakers who will take the Camden Opera House stage at the conference that wraps up on Saturday.

The conference pulled people from Microsoft, CNN, bands, consulting firms and more.

The 700 participants, who are largely not from Maine, inject about $1 million into the area economy, according to Dan Bookham, executive director of the Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce.

Local hotels have been booked for weeks. The conference assigns its guests to different lunch and dinner restaurants each day — and of course there are the basics.

Christie Nicholson of Scientific American magazine came to Camden to support PopTech’s science fellows, as she is one of the faculty members for the fellows program. But around 11 a.m., she ran out of Advil and contact lens solution. So she went to the Rite Aid on Elm Street.

“The most technical conference comes down to contact lens solution,” Bookham said.

In addition to lodging and basic needs spending, Bookham said several former PopTech participants have moved to the area or come back to the midcoast for vacations.

Camden’s interim community development director, Mathew Eddy, has a sign for free land in the window of the town offices — right next to the conference. The town is offering a free brownfield to anyone who can bring good jobs to the area. Eddy is happy the conference is bringing entrepreneurs and leaders in technology and science into town.

“These are the kind of businesses we want to attract,” he said. “And the youth.”

In fact, the conference did seem youthful. Video cameras, iPhones and electronic tablets were in the hands of many young people in the opera house Thursday.

“[PopTech] seems to teeter to the young and hip,” said Camden Opera House manager Kerry Hadley.

This helps local clothing store Josephine.

“We buy with them in mind,” store owner Janet Kooyenga said Thursday. “We buy more, and they love it. I love the energy, and they have great style.”

Cappy’s Bakery, right off Main Street, stayed open just for this event.

Terry Wagner, who works at the bakery, said the seasonal business usually closes after the summer tourists leave.

“We stay open until [PopTech participants] come,” Wagner said.

As for the participants, they seem to like the picturesque coastal town in autumn.

“Most of the conferences I go to are in New York; there is a lot of anxiety,” said Michael Piliero of FreeAssociation, a digital media firm. “This is more small — a boutique environment with just one speaker at a time.”

Nathan Maton of a Washington, D.C.-based design company enjoyed the scenery.

“I love the fact that the leaves should be on postcards. My first picture was of the water,” he said.

“They don’t come here because people are pulling their arm,” Bookham said, even though Camden is removed from major airports. “They come because they love it. It’s like summer camp for the attendees. It’s less hectic. It’s a great place to come and think.”

The sold-out conference continues until Oct. 23. The entire conference is live-streamed online so people can watch lectures free as they happen.

For more information visit http://poptech.org/live.

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