RootsTech Innovator Summit: Genealogy, Technology and Business at the Cross-Roads

Innovator Summit Rootstech 2014

[Editor’s Note: Recently we had the opportunity to interview with Bruce Brand of Family Search about the upcoming Innovator Summit at RootsTech to be held on 5 February 2014 (additional sessions 6-8 February). Many of you may remember the “Developer Day” at past RootsTech events – well this year the concept has been revamped to serve as an idea incubator for the genealogy, technology and business communities.]

So Bruce, before we get started discussing the upcoming RootsTech Innovator Summit, tell me a little about yourself and your work with FamilySearch!

Sure, I joined FamilySearch last fall. Prior to that, my business career included 10 years in tech sales/sales management and 10 years as a SaaS software and services business owner. In addition to managing RootsTech Innovator Summit (formerly Developer Day), I’m focused on strategic partnerships.

RootsTech has taken the annual Developer Day which has historically been a segment of RootsTech and have created a separate Innovator Summit. If you could give a brief “elevator speech” about the event, what would it be?

RootsTech Innovator Summit is a unique opportunity for software developers, entrepreneurs and technology business leaders to explore and influence technology solutions in the family history industry.

Why would someone attending RootsTech want to show up a day early and catch the Innovator’s Summit?

So you don’t kick yourself! . . . for missing 16 of our 30+ remarkable sessions – from Cyd Tetro (Disney) to Robert Gardner (Google) to John Spottiswood (Ancestry’s $100M acquisition) to our “Quantified Man” keynote, Chris Dancy (BMC, @ServiceSphere)!

Let me share a quick story to illustrate the underlying reason. This morning I spoke with Tammy Hepps of TreeLines based in New York City. She won last year’s RootsTech Developer Challenge.  Read Tammy’s fascinating RootsTech story.

Today, as a business owner and software developer in the genealogy space, Tammy has discovered a business opportunity that is changing her life. She credits this discovery to what is now the RootsTech Innovator Summit. [A disclaimer – Innovator Summit is not for everyone, but if you’re at all interested in business opportunities and technology it’s a great time to jump in!]

We’ve seen genealogy organizations and vendors like FamilySearch bring massive amounts of data online in the past five years. It seems like “Big Data” will continue to be a growing area in genealogy. Why do you think that non-genealogy businesses might want to get in on the action?

That’s a great question. I had a call this week with a well-known industry executive. He described the “Non-genealogy” business opportunities as potentially very large.

It’s estimated that only 1 in 20 people are interested in “genealogy” (finding out who they’re related to). But everyone is interested in “nostalgia” (family stories).  He predicts that the social media giants will be jumping in.

Bill Gates once pointed out that whenever there’s a new “operating system,” there will be a wave of all-new innovations and business opportunities.  The process of Big Data-izing (I think I just invented a word!) this industry is doing just that: it is creating a whole new landscape for innovation.

It sounds like the Innovator Summit is one way to connect the various genealogy and non-genealogy thought communities and businesses. What events are planned to help incubate and grow connections between developers, business leaders and genealogists?

There are two additions to the Innovator Summit and two things we’ve retained from Developer Day:

  • We’ve added a dedicated pre-RootsTech Innovator Summit day with our own (non-industry) keynote and lunch.
  • We’ve added many more sessions designed to highlight business opportunities.
  • We’ve kept our tech/developer focus including many hands-on API sessions; some of these sessions even offer a preview of  unreleased APIs.
  • We also kept our popular “Unconferencing” rooms (anyone can jump-in, pick a topic, and lead a discussion)

An important clarification – about half our Innovator Summit sessions are on Wednesday, 5 February 2014, while the rest are interspersed during RootsTech on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (6-8 February 2014).

A few examples of non-genealogy speakers:

  • Keynote, Chris Dancy (BMC Software) Facebook of the Dead.
  • Cydni Tetro (Disney) What Will Your Grandchildren Wish You had Tweeted to Them?
  • Barbara Lawrence (Lubin Lawrence) New Research Highlights 4 Industry Gaps – Shh…Somebody Should Jump on These!

Most people in the genealogy and family history communities don’t recognize the name Chris Dancy, the RootsTech Innovator Summit keynote speaker. Why did you select Chris and what does he bring to the Summit this year?

Great question. First, keynoters need to be both entertaining and thought provoking. Chris is both. In addition to speaking at Dreamforce in November, Chris as been featured in WIRED, TED NYC 2013, and PBS.

Second, Chris is a big believer in capturing and analyzing the “Digital me” – he calls himself a “digital exhaust cartographer”. This includes the whole concept of digital death, something this industry is trying to get its hands around. His Facebook for the Dead keynote is sure to be fascinating and an eye-opener.

Finally, Chris is a professional IT guy — he understands and knows how to connect with developers.

So there is still a Developer’s Challenge component to this year’s Summit, correct? How does the challenge work and what does someone need to do in order to enter and compete?

Yes, keeping this was very important. We’ve sweetened the prizes and expanded the recognition. We will create a short video on the winner which will be shown to all RootsTech attendees during the main keynote address on Friday morning.

After the Summit is over and RootsTech has finished, what are you hoping the attendees take away from this year’s events? How can they put this knowledge to use for the rest of 2014?

This question key.  Although the ideas and concepts that attendees take a way will be vital, we do plan to “continue the conversation” in an upcoming LinkedIn group as well as in ongoing Innovators Summit webinars.

At the same time, over the long-term, the the networking and relationships may be even more valuable.   Early in my career I worked for an Apple developer and attended a MacWorld event in San Francisco.  I exhibited next a little company called DataViz and got to know the founder, Dick Fontana.  Though the stuff we were selling has all changed, to this day I can give Dick a call and kick around ideas and partnerships.

Early registration discount code expires 14 January 2014: IS59BB2

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.