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Next Generation Summit
updated: May 10, 2014, 11:45 AM

By Nathan Siegel

What do drones, sustainable business, crowdfunding and new media have in common? Innovation, according to organizers of the Next Generation Summit, a student-run entrepreneurial conference that took place last weekend at UCSB.

Featuring a half dozen keynote presentations from leading professionals and a variety of peer-to-peer workshops, the second annual NGS attracted aspiring innovators from all over California for an opportunity to network, exchange ideas, and promote business ventures.

Over 100 tickets were sold to students from UCSB, SDSU, UCSD, Cal Poly, Claremont, various local community colleges as well as a handful of non-students for the two-day event. Participants engaged a wide variety of topics including technology, entrepreneurship, health and wellness, media, and sustainability. NGS was created to "develop tangible solutions by amalgamating the knowledge of students from numerous educational backgrounds," said founder Kiyan Rajabi, a UCSB student and member of the Entrepreneur Association.

For most attendees, being surround by likeminded individuals was one of the conference's greatest assets. "It was an incredible opportunity to network with young people with similar life goals," said 3rd year Economics major at UCSB, Zach Williason. "And I will definitely be attending next year."

In order to encourage active participation between attendees, NGS held student-run workshops that comprised of small groups and a flexible structure. In the intimate workshop setting, students could teach what they knew and what they were passionate about, said Isaac Linson, Assistant Director of NGS and a 4th year in UCSB's Technology Management Program.

The 45-minute sessions, which included themes such as "The Art of Mastery" and "The International Advantage: How to live locally and succeed globally," were designed to "embrace a practical, real-world solution approach" and foster "an entrepreneurial spirit that at times is lacking in college classrooms," explained Daniel Pawlak, NGS's Marketing Director.

The workshops' focus on peer-to-peer learning was balanced with keynote speeches from prominent professionals, many of them UCSB alumni. Zachary Hargreaves, founder of drone company VIRES Aeronautics and member of NASA's Curiosity mission presented "Manned vs. Unmanned: Making the World More Connected," a riveting look inside the world of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones).

Others included David Fortson, UCSB alumnus and founder of LoaCom and LoaTree, an environmental consulting firm and community outreach organization based in Santa Barbara; Dr. Andrea Neal, president of Blue Ocean Sciences; Dr. James Rogers (another UCSB alum), founder of the organic technology company Apeel Sciences; KEYT anchor Shirin Rajaee; and a founder of local crowdfunding platform Crowdismo, José Huitron.

And then there was Eric Wilson, a reigning junior-high-school-state- science-fair prizewinner, who happened to wander into NGS with his father. The next day, he introduced his experiment on an evolutionary algorithm titled, "Balancing Diversity and Fitness while Evolving Neural Networks." Once finished, the 14-year-old addressed the group of intelligent and ambitious college students: "Questions?"

"Could you repeat that?" came the amusing, but completely serious response. Thanks to Eric, organizers want to open up the event to local high schoolers and middle schoolers next year.

NGS is also looking to expand to others campuses. The Entrepreneur Society at SDSU will most likely put on a similar, possibly affiliated, event next year, said Linson. UCSB's own Entrepreneur Association and Technology Management Program are interested in becoming involved as well.

"The entrepreneurial spirit here is strong," said Linson, "and only getting stronger."

 

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