TechFest NW 2017 Highlights

TechFest NW is where you’ll explore the best of tech trends- from Artificial Intelligence to cannatech- in an up-close and personal way.


TechFest NW wrapped up its 6th event and what a couple of days it was. This year, TechFest NW grew from the confines of the Armory into the sprawling Portland Art Museum. With start-ups, speakers, and attendees coming to Portland from across the globe it was quite the international affair.

What is TechFest NW?

Haley Platt of Output PDX interviews TFNW founder Mark Zusman, discussing why he founded TechFest NW and how it has evolved over the years from a local to a global conference.


There were a plethora of speakers covering topics ranging from AI, robots, and cyber security to politics, connected trucks, and cannatech (yes, weed tech… it’s Portland). While all the speakers were captivating, sharing compelling stories, a handful really stood out.

Nicole Perloth of the New York Times shared how we are more vulnerable than we think. She landed on the cyber security beat five ago. Initially thinking it was going to be an incredibly boring assignment, she quickly realized how wrong she was. She shared stories of how various investigations introduced her to some of the world’s most infamous hackers and how they opened her eyes to just how easy it is to get into places that are supposedly rigidly protected… Including the Goldman Sachs boardroom.

Rukaiyah Adams, CIO at Meyer Memorial Trust, interviewed by Willamette Week founder Mark Zusman, shared the importance of looking for more when investing. “Is profit enough?” She claims that ROI is not the only thing to pay attention to and asks investors to think about “return” more broadly, more widely than financial return. It’s not enough to deliver money and to ask for money in return. People need more. They need information. Think more about innovation and less about profit from the product. Be more generative and contributory. We’ve already defined a model that is extractive and most probably not sustainable. So, where can we go from here?

Ron Wyden opened up day two of the conference with a clear message: “My bedrock philosophy is you cannot ever let a politician tell you that liberty and security are mutually exclusive.” He covered the issues of blurring lines of the Fourth Amendment and how he intends to fight that. He also armed attendees with five things we can all do to help his fight:

  • Make calls to your legislators. “The call is far and away the best thing you can do,” he said.
  • Keep marching. He noted the events such as the Women’s March held in January are “fantastic.”
  • Talk to your friends from other states.
  • Support whistleblowers. Those willing to get the word out from the front lines will be key.
  • When you see an overreach in the private sector or in government say something.

Jeremy Plumb, the proclaimed “Wizard of Weed,” enlightened the crowds on the medicinal uses for weed. He spoke of navigating through all the stoner stereotypes and jokes to uphold a standard of care for the a-typical demographic. Emphasizing how safe cannabis is, he laughed as he said, “A bale of weed would have to fall on you to harm you.” The use of cannabis has been dramatically reducing the use of pharmaceutical drugs. He also shared his advice on how to unlock the therapeutic effects of cannabis as there is no one size fits all.

  • Understand what method of delivery works best for you: vaporizers, topical, edibles, suppositories, or an oral mucosal spray.
  • Titration or MED (minimum effective dose)
  • Therapeutic window
  • Observation and study

Dr. Jonathan Hurst from Agility Robots showcased his experience with building walking robots. Our world isn’t built for robots and their linear motion. They have to “adapt” to our world. Inspired by birds mechanics, he and his team at OSU worked to understand the dynamical phenomenon of the legged locomotion as well passive dynamics and the need for real-time adjustments. From this was born ATRIAS, the first machine to reproduce human gait dynamics. According to Dr. Hurst, we are at the “Model T” stage of robot development and we are about to hit a turning point. He concluded asking the audience “What new things will be achieved when robots can go wherever people can go?”


While all the speakers were educating and inspiring the audience upstairs, there was fierce competition happening downstairs. PitchFest, “the conference within a conference for startups,” is TechFestNW version of Shark Tank. Startups from around the globe were selected to attend and given the chance to pitch their business to a panel of investors. After the waves of 5-minute pitches, the judges choose five companies to go on to pitch on the main stage. This years final five were very impressive and diverse. Out of the 75 startups competing, Madorra, a company dedicated to “developing solutions to improve quality of life after menopause” took home the grand prize.

Madorra wins Pitchfest Congrats to Holly Rockweiler from @MadorraMedical

Project 11

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the success of the launch of our Project 11 interactive experience. It was definitely eye-catching, getting a lot of attention from curious attendees and other sponsors. We even caught the attention of local media company OutputPDX. If you want your own chance at exploring our AI Ouija board experience as well as other emerging tech projects we’ve been working on, stop by our Open House during Design Week Portland.