IN THE JOB since last year, the energetic and engaging Bea Wray is the new-ish director of The Creative Coast, succeeding the affable Jake Hodesh (who returns to town from Ohio this week for Geekend).
The Creative Coast is sponsoring another edition of Geekend, that Savannah gathering where nerddom and entrepreneurship come together to do and discuss awesome new developments and inspire each other.
We chatted with Bea about it last week.
Your new gig...
I love it. I like to say that when I took this job, I thought it would be fun and exciting, and I couldn’t wait to spend more time with the same cool people I had connected with through the creative community for years.
But what was so funny is now I never see those people! The reason being they were like only 25 or 30 out of hundreds of cool, creative people.
That’s the summary of where we are—Savannah has so many amazing things going on that until I got into the eye of the storm I didn’t see how great things really were.
Contrary to popular opinion, this is actually the first year Creative Coast is putting on Geekend. We do a lot of other things—Fast Pitch, TedX, mentoring, podcasts, blogs. I think what confuses people is that Geekend was started by a handful of people, most importantly Jake Hodesh, who was indeed Creative Coast director. Two years ago Jake had stepped away from Geekend to put more energy into The Creative Coast.
Are local universities doing enough to incubate entrepreneurial talent?
Sometimes a university will put on a cool conference, but it’s not always universities that provide the backing—they usually are providing the location. I think the difference is you want world renowned speakers. And world renowned speakers sometimes will only go to world renowned places! I’d have been very happy if SCAD or Georgia Southern would have put on Geekend, but they’ve all been very helpful. There’s no university within 60 miles that’s not connected to this somehow.
Tourism economy vs. Knowledge-based economy
That’s very much on my mind. I’ve had extensive communications with Joe Marinelli at Visit Savannah, and I always tell him Geekend and events like it are the key to our success.
The number one complaint is that we need more high-level people to spend more money here and stay longer. The equivalent of the person going to Charleston for Spoleto. People taking more interest in all aspects of community, not just green beer.
We see Geekend as just like Stopover, and even moreso like the Music Festival. We can build the kind of visitor Savannah wants, and Geekend does that.
The second thing is we need business visitors. Savannah is off the charts on nonbusiness visitors. But if you chart Geekend visitors, it’s the opposite.
My argument is our business visitors will look different. Savannah doesn’t have the types of Fortune 500 companies bringing in salespeople.
But we do have people from all over the country figuring out where to spend the next 10 years. And they are looking for creative, dynamic communities that host cool things. Geekend hits that right in the sweet spot.
Awkward but... why’s Geekend so pricey?
Comparable events in Durham and Jacksonville run like $459 a day. Our event is only $225 for all three days. That includes breakfast, lunch, snack, and evening entertainment and speakers.
That said, even if you don’t attend, you need to know this is happening if you live in Savannah and care about Savannah.
The thing is, these kinds of speakers don’t go to places they don’t want to go. They don’t bother with communities which aren’t growing and don’t have something to offer.
Neil Gershenfeld runs the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms. He’s coming, and he usually costs about $30,000 to get him to speak. And he’s just one of five of our keynotes.
We’ve never, ever attracted that kind of talent to even visit Savannah before. It’s an accomplishment to get them to come.