Tech fest again propels big crowd to Hoboken waterfront

HOBOKEN -- A new name and slight change of venue didn't seem to dent the popularity of a technology festival held for the second straight year in Hoboken on Thursday, when thousands of veteran and aspiring tech entrepreneurs, investors and others seeking to profit from the innovation economy gathered on the Hudson River waterfront.

Thursday's Propelify Innovation Festival 2017 was the sophomore version of PropellerFest, which debuted in May 2016 at Hoboken's Pier A Park, a grassy expanse jutting into the Hudson River at 1st Street and Sinatra Drive.

Last year's festival drew 8,200 attendees from 43 states and 10 countries, according to Aaron Price, a Hoboken resident and serial entrepreneur who founded the festival after starting a monthly gathering known as the NJ Tech Meetup in 2010. 

Because of ongoing work on Pier A, this year's festival was held a couple of blocks upriver, and was a more linear affair, with booths and a pair of stages for presentations and panel discussions lining Hoboken's waterfront walkway for two long blocks between 3rd Street and Sinatra Park.

Tech companies and institutions represented along "Innovation Row" included PeopleID, Stevens Institute of Technology, Google, Arria, Newark Venture Partners, Oscar, Enigma, Flow, Pi Square, Pointimize, and the event itself, which had a booth selling Propelify T-shirts, hoodies and hats. There was beer, liquor and Red Bull energy drink for sale, a drone demonstration booth, and broadcast interview area labeled "Cool Stuff."



The festival's name change was necessitated by others' use of "propeller," Price explained during opening remarks from the "Wisdom Stage," where Ariana Huffington would later deliver the festival's keynote address. But Price said he wanted to retain the name's propulsive element.

"A lot of people are like, 'Aaron, what is the deal with the propeller stuff?'" said Price, who hopes his gathering will become a northeast version of Austin's South-by-Southwest music and tech festival. "What we like to say is, 'Idle ideas don't fly.'"

Even with temperatures topping 90 degrees, by midday the festival had already drawn at least 3,000 people to the waterfront, said Lt. Brian Brereton of the Hoboken Police Department.

One of them was Jeff Furman, an author and consultant who teaches project management at NYU's School of Professional Studies. Furman views Propelify and similar gatherings as critical networking opportunities and valuable indicators of industry trends.



Propeller Fest, now 'Propelify,' returns to Hoboken

As host city, Hoboken is offering residents a 75% discount on the standard $48 ticket price to the innovation festival, which organizers say drew 8,000 techies last May

"I'm always telling my students about these events," said Furman, who lives in Hoboken.

He was particularly impressed by a comparative discussion involving Pymetrics CEO Freda Polli on the field of intelligence augmentation, or IA, which uses detailed data to aid in hiring and other business decisions.


"I tweeted about that," Furman said.

Ansh Abrol, a 24-year-old Merrill Lynch financial advisor, said he was there, "just to check out what's going on in the tech scene and innovation space." 

"It's an area I want to be involved in, and I want to know a little bit more about where we're going," said Abrol, who lives in Bloomfield. 

Abrol stood out in his 3-piece suit and tie, surprising attire not only because of the day's warm temperatures, but also because of the uniformly casual clothing of the tech community. It's a very real dress code for 20-something programmers and graying venture capitalists alike.      

"If I show up at a client in a suit and tie, they think there's something wrong and we don't know the marketplace," said David Soren, a partner at the law firm McCarter & English, an original backer of Propelify.

Soren, who led a discussion of venture capital on Thursday, said McCarter &  English was proud to help get Propelify off the ground -- and surprised at its rate of ascent.

"Aaron came to us in the fall of '15, telling me he had the idea of developing the equivalent of South by Southwest here on the East Coast," Soren said in an interview this week. "I assumed he was talking about 2017. We started talking and he said, 'Yea, we're going to do this in May.' And I say 'May? How are you going to pull that off?' And he said 'I'll pull it off.'"