A leader in entrepreneurial technology will be the keynote speaker at the 14th Annual Conference on Technology Innovation Nov. 12 and 13 at the Jackson Convention Complex. Will Bunker, a graduate of Mississippi State University, was co-founder of the pioneering online dating service that later became Match.com, the world’s largest personal site, will address the conference.
Innovate Mississippi CEO and president Tony Jeff says this conference is the annual gathering of Mississippians interested in innovation and entrepreneurship. “It offers an ability to being together insightful speakers and sessions to help connect and inform attendees,” he said. “Our focus on innovation within existing industry also provides a valuable draw for companies already in operation but looking for additional innovative resources.”
Bunker, who was a classmate and fraternity brother of Jeff’s, will lead a breakout session in addition to giving the keynote address. “I grew up in the Delta on a cotton farm and went to school in Greenville, Miss. Afterward I went to college at MSU, and my wife is from Columbus,” he said of his ties to Mississippi. “There is a part of my heart that will always belong to the state. So anyway that I can give back by speaking or mentoring, is something that I do. I think that with all the innovation available through the Internet, it is more possible than ever for innovation to occur anywhere.”
Bunker says the description of him as a serial entrepreneur is appropriate because he stays in the early startup stage of ventures. “I don’t think I’ll ever pursue running a large business but prefer to work at the beginning when the idea is being brought to life,” he said. ‘The dating site that we sold was at 70 employees. I was starting to struggle to know everyone personally, so it was time to sell and move on to the next idea.”
The 44-year-old industrial engineer most enjoys building something that affects people across the world. “Four years ago, I helped co-found vChatter, a social video chatting site,” he explained. “Even though the project was commercially unsuccessful, more than five million people worldwide used the service; some of them daily and it made their lives more interesting. Also, I enjoy helping younger entrepreneurs, as there were many people who helped along the way to my first success.”
Bunker advises young people interested in technology to become avid self learners. “When we started our first technology business (dating), neither of us new how to program. We didn’t have the money to hire outside help, but could afford the $40 book to teach ourselves” he said. “Today the cost is lower and resources are everywhere to learn how to use any form of technology.
“I constantly teach myself new skills to be relevant for new startups. Most people overestimate their ability to do something in the short run and underestimate their progress in the long run. So setting up a system of teaching yourself new things will create success in the long run.”
It’s that creative process that keeps him motivated. “I really enjoy programming. It allows me to be creative, and it’s a lot of fun to take an idea and create something using only your mind.”
Heath Hall, vice president of Innovate Mississippi, says the conference attracted about 500 people last year and is expected to draw a larger crowd this year. “We have something for everyone in the breakout sessions,” he said. “We’re hoping to attract any Mississippian who is interested in business. Every year we do a survey of people attending and it’s been consistent that good keynote speakers draw people in.”
A second major speaker and breakout sessions in health care have been added this year. “Dr. Hannah Gay will address the group. She’s outstanding and we’re proud to have her speak at the conference,” Hall said.
Gay, a pediatrician, is a University of Mississippi Medical Center HIV specialist and was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. By giving an HIV-positive infant anti-HIV drugs within hours of birth, Gay was responsible for orchestrating an incredible breakthrough, a functional cure.
Kristi Henderson, M.D., will lead a session on Telehealth – Connecting Medicine Statewide. Bill Rayburn, Ph.D. and co-founder and CEO of FNC Inc., will lead Closing the Sale.
“Entrepreneurs and investors will get a lot out of the conference, but many other groups, such as mentors and service providers that provide work to the state’s innovation companies or who want to get in on these ground floor opportunities, will get a lot out of it as well,” Tony Jeff said. “Our lineup this year is one of the best we have ever had.”