EcoMap ReCap: VentureWell OPEN 2024

VentureWell's mission, deeply interwoven with the ethos of OPEN 2024, envisions a world where science and technology innovators have ample support, training, and access to essential networks and resources.

One week after getting back from our inaugural SXSW excursion, the EcoMap team continued Spring ‘24 by making a return visit to VentureWell OPEN in sunny San Diego, California.

Image with text that reads "OPEN 24 | March 18-20,2024 San Diego Hyatt Regency La Jolla"
VentureWell OPEN 2024 logo

The warm weather mirrored the warm welcome one tended to receive at VentureWell OPEN, as friendly faces covered the well-represented VentureWell staff as well as conference attendees coming from all over the country. When you’re spending a couple of days in La Jolla, it’s hard not to radiate positivity.

VentureWell’s mission, deeply interwoven with the ethos of OPEN 2024, envisions a world where science and technology innovators have ample support, training, and access to essential networks and resources. This year’s conference not only echoed this vision but also brought it to life through a series of meticulously curated sessions, workshops, and keynote speeches, aimed at fostering collaboration among the brightest minds in and beyond university innovation.

With the official theme of Innovating Futures Together, the conference also embraced an unofficial mantra: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is abuzz in the world of university entrepreneurship & innovation. In fact, twenty-two different sessions throughout OPEN included those buzzy letters “AI” in either the session title or description.

Beyond the Buzzwords

OPEN did its best to go “beyond the buzzwords” with AI, as the Conference Kickoff plenary put the spotlight on three university-based innovators who had developed practical applications of AI and Virtual Reality (VR). Each of these university pioneers had 10 minutes to demo an innovation they’ve been leading around these technologies, which took these concepts from the realm of theoretical to the land of practical.

Photo from the Opening Plenary session
  • Anna Long-Ruboyianes, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at California State University, San Bernardino, live demo’d a series of GPTs that were trained with various persona types to help students with get comfortable conducting verbal customer discovery interviews.
  • Neil Smith, Co-Director of the Center for Cyber-Archaeology & Sustainability; Director of Immersive Visualization Center;Lecturer/Research Scientist at Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego, showed off a series of VR-based video games developed by students on campus that aimed to recreate experiences such as a late archeologist giving a tour of his excavation site or Mahatma Gandhi explaining The Salt March in his own words.
  • Mark Naufel, Founder/Executive Director of Luminosity Labs at Arizona State University, is also the founder of Primer, which develops a personalized AI learning journey for its users. Still in Early Access mode, Naufel’s demo of Primer’s capabilities to give users a comprehensive learning graph based on a simple “What do you want to learn about today?” prompt. Voice chat, health tracking, automatic journaling, career coaching, all wrapped within calendar/account integrations, make it easy to see why this technology could soon be ubiquitous. While Primer is currently focused on K-12 education, I could imagine a world in which anyone could benefit from a bespoke learning adventure. Check out more about Primer here for yourself.

A big takeaway for me when it comes to talking about AI at conferences – show rather than tell. When you’re at a conference like this, you want to see AI in action, not in a powerpoint presentation. Each of these presenters rose to the challenge of showing, not telling, quite well.

C*CUBE Toolkit

Jim Woodell of Venn Collaborative going through the conversations matrix

One of my personal highlights of OPEN 2024 was titled, “Introducing C*CUBE, a Toolkit to Amplify the Role of Colleges and Universities in Engaging with Entrepreneurial Ecosystems” which was led by my colleagues Jim Woodell of Venn Collaborative (pictured) and John Muraski of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

C*CUBE – which stands for Conversations for Colleges and Universities Building Ecosystems – is a Kauffman Foundation-funded initiative to provide free tools, connections, and collaboration for college and university leaders interested in engaging their community partners in ecosystem building.

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of sitting on the C*CUBE Advisory Board over the past year as we’ve developed the first toolkit specifically designed for higher ed ecosystem builders. The primary purpose is to help them to identify the stage they’re at in their ecosystem building journey (Discovering | Developing | Doing) across four core theme areas (Value & Purpose | Contexts & Environment | Assets & Roles | Links & Connections).

The cute little C*Cube logo

A dozen universities recently participated in the first C*CUBE Conversations Challenge which prompted university ecosystem builders to facilitate at least two dialogues based on the conversation guides for a chosen topic. How did the challenge go for participants?

Well as you might imagine, there was a spectrum of outcomes. Some went relatively smoothly and brought a new sense of cohesion amongst its members. Others illuminated that gaps in understanding were deeper than first anticipated. But regardless of the initial outcomes, the important thing is to be regularly engaging in these sorts of conversations in order to make sure they’re happening in the first place. That’s the only way to grow together with your fellow ecosystem partners.

A revamped version of the C*CUBE site is coming out next month, so in the meantime please join this LinkedIn Group if you’re interested in staying up-to-date with that launch and getting plugged into the network of university ecosystem builders.

Spotlight on Sustainability, Students, and San Diego

Sleepy sea lions in La Jolla Cove

UCSD Campus Tour

Nestled in La Jolla – just a hop, skip, and a jump from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) campus – OPEN 2024 took full advantage of its location. Before the conference truly started I decided to take in the sights and sounds (and smells) of the sea lions that call La Jolla Cove home.

Before the conference truly kicked off, there was a pre-conference innovation tour of the UCSD campus. The tour filled up well before I had a chance to attend, so I decided to go on a run through the UCSD campus for an innovation tour of my own. Highlights included Jacobs Hall – the engineering with a lopsided house precariously perched on its roof – and the Geisel Library (aka Dr. Suess) – which has been described as “a fascinating nexus between brutalism and futurism”.

Architectural marvels galore on the UCSD campus

Sustainable Innovation

Zora Chung, CFO/Co-Founder of ReJoule

Another key part of OPEN was celebrating the achievements of innovators in the field of sustainability. The Sustainable Practice Impact Award – an OPEN tradition – recognizes companies or individuals who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in developing clean technologies, implementing sustainable practices in their businesses, or providing exceptional educational opportunities to university students.  This year the award went to ReJoule, a company focused on creating a circular economy for lithium-ion EV batteries. Read more about Co-Founder/CFO Zora Chung’s path to starting ReJoule and the role VentureWell played in that journey.

The last official event of the conference, the OPENminds Innovator Showcase, gave young E-Team student innovators the floor as they pitched their nascent inventions developed in the university setting. Attendees swiftly turned into sharks as they each had the opportunity to “invest” up to $3 million in Venture Bucks which would help determine a crowd choice award.

The winner? Car Seat Companion from Elizabeth City State University. To quote VentureWell’s write-up of Car Seat Companion:

The team participated in the Summer 2023 cohort of the E-Team Program, completing Pioneer (Stage One) while also taking on a competition led by the HBCU Founders Initiative, a founding partner of the Equity Ecosystem Partner Network. Their invention, aimed at reducing child hot-car deaths, uses a Bluetooth-enabled pad that fits underneath a child in a car. The pad sends an alert to a parent or guardian via smartphone to notify them that a child is still in their car seat if the adult gets more than five meters away.

OPENminds 2024Innovator Showcase winners

Read more about the showcase and other winning teams here.

Overall Impression

Reflecting on VentureWell OPEN 2024, one can’t help but feel invigorated by the entrepreneurial educators’ passion for integrating cutting-edge AI technologies into their curricula and helping them spin out of the classroom. But behind the technology, it’s important to remember humanity. Humans have problems that need solving. Humans have ambitions and goals. Humans buy from other humans.  

This tech-forward mindset aligns perfectly with EcoMap Technologies’ vision of empowering students and educators by helping them find the most relevant information that they are searching for. Not to just provide information for its own sake, but rather so it can be utilized to advance a personal goal or solve a problem.

AI is just a means to that end.  

If you are interested in learning more about how EcoMap can help you support your ecosystem, you can sign up for a demo through the calendar below.

Ecosystem Growth delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter for advice, webinars and more!

Welcome Aboard! 👋
Look out for our Welcome email!

? EcoMap 
 + You! Grants & Opportunities Webinars & Discussions Accelerate & Grow Your Ecosystem
Scroll to Top