As much a veritable “who’s who” of the Colorado social scene as it is a blowout for innovation in the state, Colorado Innovation Network’s 2014 Summit (COIN) boasts an unparalleled guest list of 275 economy-drivers from around the world and across the country. This year’s speaking itinerary, spanning the two-day period of Aug. 26-27 at the MicNichols Civic Center Building, touts – among other left-brainers – opening remarks from Schwab Executive Vice President Andy Gill, an address from Gov. Hickenlooper, a keynote led by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and a lecture from Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei.
In an effort to truly use the event as a networking opportunity, we’ve compiled 10 COIN attendees you’ll want to brush up your mingling skills with while there – or maybe hit up for a cup of coffee or an Incredible Pedal next time they’re in town.
The First Five:
Ronald J. Garan – Aquanat Extraordinaire; aka, Aquaman
Fifty-three-year-old Garan’s claim to fame – and those 3.5 million social media followers – is his quarter-century commitment to both the United States Air Force and NASA, where he served as a fighter and test pilot, as well as took a dip undersea as an aquanaut for the NEEMO 9 discovery project. To boot, Garan’s hardly packed up for Boca in his retirement: Since leaving the Air Force in June 2009, he’s spun previous USAID experience into humanitarian work – namely, Manna Energy Ltd., which implements sustainable technologies in poverty-stricken communities, and is responsible for a water treatment program that’s provided clean water to more than 4.5 million people in Kenya’s Western Province. A not-too-shabby resume, huh?
Conversation-starters: Garan is a native to New York (Yonkers!), has a bachelor’s degree in Business Economics from SUNY College at Oneonta (plus: two Master of Science degrees and an honorary doctorate – overachiever, much?), served as a combat-ready Air Force pilot in Operation Desert Storm (August 1990 to March 1991) and – for all of you numbers people – has clocked in 5,000 hours in 30 unique aircrafts. … And he’s also spent 178 days in space. You’ll find something to talk about.
James Kelley – Capital Connoisseur
Kelley is managing director, co-founder and former president of 26-year-old, $7 billion (with a B!) middle-market private equity firm Vestar Capital Partners. The uber-successful firm has witnessed 80 percent of its investments realized – a success scenario straight from a young startup ‘preneur’s wet dreams. Kelley formerly led the storied First Boston Corporation’s Management Buyout Group as a senior executive and maintains roles as a Trustee of the Denver Art Museum and the Colorado Conservation Trust. He’s also a bit of a Silver Fox in his own right: Check out those sharp eyes and wavy greys!
Conversation-starters: Ask Kelley if he’s a dog or cat guy: Considering he’s served as a director for the Big Heart Pet Brands Corporation, it’s a safe bet that he’s got a soft spot for animals. He’s also a native to Colorado (with a B.S. from the University of Northern Colorado), and has had placement on boards that include The Denver Foundation and the Clayton Foundation. And with three kids and a wife to round out the picture-perfect package, you might want to ask how the man finds any free time.
John Hickenlooper – Geologist-turned-Brewer-turned … Governor?
Elected as Colorado’s 42nd governor in 2010, Hickenlooper’s fresh-faced career started as an overzealous geologist shunned by a shift in the oil and gas industries and, for one reason or another, easily compelled to make a switcheroo to microbrewing as his new venture. And thank goodness he did: Wynkoop Brewing Company’s famously contributed to the revitalization of Lower Downtown Denver – or LoDo, for those who can stomach the nickname. The affable Hickenlooper would later lead a successful tenure as Denver’s mayor, mascot and – as 5280 would put it – Colorado’s Philly-‘burbs-transplanted “George Bailey.”
Conversation-starters: Sure, your gut instinct might be to whisper him over like a kid in an alleyway to talk taxes – but refrain. Instead, you might ask about his favorite brew (beer talk’s always a hit), his many, many famous connections (Meryl Streep, Tina Brown and the Double Bills: Clinton and Gates) or how he picks out his clothes in the morning (Esquire crowned him one of America’s five best dressed mayors). You might also – at your own risk – ask him about the photo used in the invitations to his 40th birthday bash.
Kunitake Ando – Sony’s Commander-in-Chief/That Guy Who Knew Steve Jobs
Cheeky-smiled, 72-year-old Ando’s seen the business of technology twist, turn and twirl for more than four decades: He joined Sony Corporation in 1969, quickly becoming a crucial component to the creation of Sony Prudential Life Insurance Co. and, by 1990, had scored the role of president of Sony Engineering and Manufacturing of America. Fast-forward to 2000, and he’s president and COO of Sony Corporation – yes, the whole kit and caboodle. He’s been with the tech giant through the Walkman, VAIO, PlayStation(!) and Blu-ray. Though he stepped down as president in 2005, he continues to serve as honorary chairman of Sony Life Insurance Co., and is executive director of Japan Innovation Network – an advisory board high-shooting for the creation of 100 companies that will foster a culture of innovation and global perspective in the Japanese “innovation ecosystem.” (And no, that’s not totally unlike COIN.)
Conversation-starters: Ando graduated from the Tokyo University School of Economics in 1969, but not before earning a bachelor’s degree in – wait for it – sociology from Bucknell. Surely, a curious one-eighty worth a cocktail conversation. Still, throw out terms that get any ‘preneur giddy (but particularly Ando): “intellectual capital,” “value creation,” “social innovation ecosystem,” etc. You might also ask about his relationship with Steve Jobs, who was famously green with envy when it came to Sony and its products.
Ruth Vitale – The Creative Force
Founder of Paramount Classics and former president of Fine Line Features, Vitale has thrived as both an indie-film producer (before it was cool) and masterful churner of films featuring all sorts of Hollywood A-listers: Hustle & Flow (the pimpin’ Terrence Howard), Don Juan (King of Weird Johnny Depp), Corrina, Corrina (ever-present comedic chanteuse Whoopi Goldberg) and An American Crime (the adorkable Ellen Page). The films she’s produced have collectively nabbed three Oscars and two Golden Globes, with many more award-winners under her belt as a distributor at Fine Line. In short: She’ll wipe the floor with you in a game of Trivial Pursuit: Silver Screen Edition. As for the latest leg of her career, she’s serving as executive director of Creative Future, which has been at the forefront of anti-piracy dialogue in Hollywood and led the charge in support of the Stop Online Piracy Act – important, as film brings in more than $205 million in wages to Colorado and millions more in film festival spending.
Conversation-starters: Vitale has history in the Web startup biz, developing business strategies for OurHistree.com from 2008-09. She also knows a thing or two about Boston, having earned her bachelor’s in journalism from Boston U. And for what it’s worth: She’s a member of most-exclusive-high-school-club-ever film org, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – yes, that Academy. Oh, and if gabbing about her times as a film exec and galvanizer in the anti-piracy movement doesn’t spur juicy chitchat, try asking Vitale about the time she oversaw production of Child’s Play. (Horror-flick nerds, rejoice.)
To be continued….