Expo to Offer Insight into Some New Business Language

From VR to IT to UAV


Rik Shorten has an Emmy for Best Visual Effects sitting on his mantel.

It’s certainly a great conversation starter, he told BusinessWest, and, obviously, a serious point of pride. Mostly, though, he considers it a symbol, or mark, of excellence and accomplishment.

“Am I good at what I do? Yeah … I’m good at what I do — that’s what it means to me,” he said of the award he earned in 2010, before joking, “it’s better to have one than to not have one, let me put it that way.”

Shorten and the team he worked beside earned this hardware through their work on the hugely popular TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. To be more specific, they created visually intense, computer-generated content for the program that enabled the viewer to get a unique, up-close look at some of the myriad ways someone can die.

“What happens when a bullet enters the body and macerates a liver? What does that look like to someone? How do you create a compelling visual to tell a medical narrative?” he asked while summarizing how his team answered those questions and, in so doing, created what he called “content with context.”

This is the same general theme that lies at the core of a new business venture he and several partners launched roughly 18 months ago. It’s called BioflightVR, and as that name suggests, it’s a venture created to help businesses and institutions make full and effective use of the emerging, and in many ways transformative, technologies known as virtual reality and augmented reality.

At present, much of the work and products being readied for the market are focused on the healthcare industry. They include everything from platforms that enable doctors-in-training to perform complex surgical procedures in a safe environment that replicates the operating room in every way, to another platform that allows a patient to get an inside look at his or her damaged shoulder, heart, knee, or kidney, and also at what the physician plans to do to repair it.

But the applications for VR and AR certainly extend to other industries, said Shorten during a phone call to his offices in California, adding that his talk at the Western Mass. Business Expo on Nov. 3 at the MassMutual Center is designed (like this article) to inform but also whet the appetite.

“I want to talk about the pain points in your business that this technology could potentially alleviate,” he said of the seminar, titled “Enterprise Virtual Reality: From Concept to Deployment.” “I want to get them warmed up to the idea of the technology, getting them thinking about it, and, if they have the desire, what are the first steps in putting a pilot project together.”

This seminar is only one part of an intense focus on VR at this year’s Expo. Indeed, visitors will get a unique and unforgettable opportunity to experience this technology hands-on (or goggles-on, to be more precise) at two demonstration rooms at the MassMutual Center.

These demonstrations will be led by Link to VR, a local company created with the purpose of helping companies learn about and benefit from the latest VR and related technologies (www.linktovr.com).

Those curious about Shorten’s talk need to be at the Show Floor Theater at the Expo at 12:45 p.m. Actually, they should probably arrive sooner to make sure they get a good seat.

And, in reality, they may want to get there soon after 9 and plan to spend the whole day there, because in addition to VR and AR, programming on the Show Floor Theater will introduce them to an array of different acronyms, words, and phrases that are shaping a new lexicon in business today.

These include ‘the cloud,’ ‘big data,’ PCI (personal credit-card information, specifically as it pertains to your computer system’s ability to keep it secure), and much, much more.

And the theater is only one of many quadrants on the show floor that will warrant the attention of those visiting the Expo. Indeed, the floor is massive, and there will be exhibiting businesses and programming in every corner and every row.

BusinessWest will break it all down in a comprehensive guide to the show that will appear in the Oct. 31 issue of the magazine. For now, here are some of the many highlights:

• Insight on Innovation: Let’s begin, well, at the beginning. That would be the Springfield Regional Chamber’s November breakfast, which has served as the traditional kick-off for the Expo. The keynote speaker will be Laura Masulis, currently serving as MassDevelopment’s transformative development fellow for the City of Homes. She’ll explain everything that goes into that role, what has been referred to by some as ‘Assignment: Springfield,’ and talk in-depth about the concept of innovation districts and ongoing efforts to develop one in the city.

• Exhibiting Businesses: After breakfast, around 9 a.m. or so, the ceremonial ribbon will be cut on the show floor. Attendees can then begin to visit exhibiting companies representing every sector of the local economy, including healthcare, education, financial services, technology, professional services, tourism, and more.

• A Survivor’s Story: The Boston Marathon bombing left Adrianne Haslet Davis scarred in many ways — she lost her left leg below the knee, for example. But it didn’t rob of her of her will, determination, and perseverance. And she would need all three. Indeed, she quickly rose to meet her daily challenges head-on with a unique perspective. Being a full-time professional ballroom dancer at the peak of her career, she had to learn an entirely new meaning of the word ‘patience.’ Haslet Davis will tell this story as the keynote speaker at the Expo lunch, to be staged by the Professional Women’s Chamber.

• Educational Seminars: From the outset, one of the missions driving Expo planners has been to ensure that visitors leave the MassMutual Center better informed, and therefore better able to grow their companies, than they were before they entered. And this year is no exception. Seminars will focus on three realms — Sales & Marketing, Business & Tech Trends, and the Multi-generational Workplace — and will cover a wide array of topics.

These include UAVs (yes, another acronym, this one short for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones) and how to use them safely and legally, SEO (search-engine optimization), using video to market your company, developing and retaining talent, motivating Millennials, handling multiple generations in the workplace, big data, the cloud, and much more.

• The Workforce of Tomorrow: That’s the name given to a large space, or hub, on the show floor dedicated to the all-important issues of workforce development, closing the skills gap, and introducing young people to career opportunities, especially in the manufacturing and STEM fields. This hub will feature a number of the agencies dedicated to workforce development, seminars focused on workforce issues and challenges, presentations from area vocational and technical schools, and …

• Robots: Back by popular demand, robotics teams will be at the Expo to demonstrate their creations and help explain how robotics programs are inspiring interest in STEM careers. In a ‘battlefield’ within the Workforce of Tomorrow hub, teams will recreate the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) competition called FIRST STRONGHOLD. In this Game of Thrones-like contest, teams of robots are on a quest to breach their opponents’ fortifications, weaken their tower with boulders, and capture the opposing tower.

• A Focus on Entrepreneurship: In addition to all of the above, the Expo will put a special emphasis on the many efforts locally to inspire entrepreneurship and mentor startup companies.

To this end, the Expo will feature a program called “Where Are They Now?” It should be called “Where Are They Now, and How Did They Get Here?” but that would be too long a title. It would be an accurate title, though, because the program, led by BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien and Valley Venture Mentors co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer Paul Silva will feature a panel of VVM accelerator program participants. They will be asked about their efforts to grow their companies and take them to the next level, and the myriad challenges they’ve faced along the way.

Also, the Expo will feature more of the region’s startups in a pitch contest to be produced by SPARK Holyoke. Always a crowd favorite, the pitch competition gives teams a chance to hone their message and compete for prizes.

• Time to Socialize: The Expo will not be all acronyms, VR, fun, and games. There will be also be time to socialize. For starters, there will be an ice-cream social sponsored by MGM Springfield. And the day of activities will climax with the popular Expo Social, one of the best networking events of the year.

The Western Mass. Business Expo will again be presented by Comcast Business. Other sponsors include Express Employment Professionals, Health New England, the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Johnson & Hill Staffing Services, MGM Springfield, Wild Apple Design, the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, Savage Arms, the Better Business Bureau, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, and Smith & Wesson. The event’s media partners are WMAS, WHMP, and Rock 102/Laser 99.3. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available.

Exhibitor spaces are also available; booth prices start at $725. For more information on sponsorships or booth purchase, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100. For more Expo details as they emerge, visit www.wmbexpo.com.

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