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Partnerships for the future

Hundreds of U students, faculty and staff attended the 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

Moments of life-changing innovation are all about relationships.

Think: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak creating the first Apple computer, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin founding Google.

University of Utah leaders believe their partnership with Silicon Slopes, Utah’s start-up and tech community, can lead to the same kinds of leading-edge inventions—software and hardware, artificial intelligence and machine learning—that will transform higher education and the state’s economy.

Hundreds of U. students, faculty and staff attended the 2020 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, to network, demonstrate cutting edge technologies, and share ideas and experiences about innovation and the explosive growth of the state’s 21st Century economy.

“At certain times and places opportunity and talent converge, creating an exponentially growing innovation ecosystem,” said Dan Reed, senior vice president for academic affairs, himself a veteran of the tech industry. “Today, Utah is where local talent, next-generation technology and entrepreneurial opportunities make this THE place to be.”

More than 1,000 U. representatives attended the annual conference. Advanced engineering students demonstrated the agility of the Luke Arm, a high-tech prosthetic. Developed by a team led by U. biomedical engineering associate professor Gregory Clark, the Luke Arm allows wearers to both manipulate and feel objects On the other side of the university’s pavilion, conference goers tried out the Center for Technology & Venture Commercialization’s (TVC) virtual reality program for medical training. Clinicians and researchers from University of Utah Health, a major sponsor of the summit, also presented at multiple breakout sessions—on mental health, wellness, and the digital transformation of healthcare and higher education.

University leaders want to build on their collaborations with Silicon Slopes companies, President Ruth Watkins said.

“We are the University FOR Utah and for the Silicon Slopes community,” she added. “The U has risen in recognition as a prestigious national university and we are attracting top talent in faculty and students. Our primary goal is to produce the workforce that IT companies need. Utah’s industries thrive on our graduates. They will be the innovators of the future as they contribute to Silicon Slopes businesses and Utah’s vibrant economy.”

And the university’s healthcare providers are poised to take care of those graduates once they join the Silicon Slopes tech workforce, said Michael Good, M.D., senior vice president for the health sciences.

“The University of Utah has a world-class, research-intensive academic health sciences center dedicated to making sure Utahns have access to exceptional healthcare,” Good said. “Silicon Slopes companies can be assured we’ll be there for their employees.”

Tiago Silva, a 2019 U. graduate with a master’s degree in information systems, strolled through the exhibit hall with a free skateboard deck on his back—swag from one of the booths. He attended the summit, his second, to network with Utah entrepreneurs.

“This is a good place to come to see what’s new in the industry,” Silva said. “I always learn a lot.”

Michael Paskett, a PhD student in biomedical engineering, demonstrated pieces of the Luke Arm as they were strapped his forearms. “Do you want to try it on?,” he asked three teenage girls wearing their school uniforms. They tentatively poked at the silicone hand and pulled out their smartphones to Snapchat.

Those interactions start conversations that can turn into relationships that lead to innovations, university leaders say. School of Computing Business Affairs Director John Melchi organized the university’s booth and a video produced from the summit. He believes the relationship between the U. and Silicon Slopes will only grow stronger.

“The university is a major contributor to the overall success of Utah and provides much of the workforce that fuel’s Utah’s economy. We wanted and needed to be here,” Melchi said. “We have an emerging strategic partnership that needs to be nurtured and developed.”