As technology continues to reshape how business gets done and the way people live their lives, there are many reasons to be excited about the tech industry’s prospects heading into 2017. The more than 300 executives, investors, and advisors that recently convened in Boston for Foley & Lardner’s annual FoleyTECH Boston 2016 conference, discussed the opportunities in the current marketplace, as well as the key challenges facing companies in today’s dynamic data-driven economy.
Here are the highlights from the event’s two keynote speakers and six panel discussions.
1. Information Security Rises Above the Fray
Amid continued cyberattacks and rising volumes of data being generated and curated by companies, information security is a top priority for most organizations. Recent advancements – including Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and autonomous features in vehicles – have created new and unique challenges that affect the business models and risk profiles for those active in these spaces.
According to a panel of industry experts, IoT devices and systems expanding the points of entry into even the most protected homes and businesses, while also increasing the amount of sensitive data that can be collected. The panelists unanimously agreed that building security systems from the ground up is critical, as well as reconsidering the types of data worthy of protection due to more sophisticated consumer bases that are demanding to know when, how, and why their data is being collected, used, and shared.
Featured lunch keynote, Carlos Bhola, managing director of Celsius Capital, discussed the social, economic, and legal implications of the growing market for connected and autonomous vehicles. He noted that privacy and security issues are even more prevalent with the potential for hackers to take control of a car and the ability to track and collect copious amounts of information on drivers.
2. Finding Capital and Timely Exits
Later in the day, a panel discussion entitled “Exit Stage Left: Liquidity Success in Today’s Economy” focused on entrepreneurs seeking funding and strategies for successful exits. As one panelist aptly put it, “We are currently in the late innings of the best M&A market of the last several decades and many sellers are concerned about missing the high-value window by waiting to pursue an exit.” The panel also weighed the pros and cons of engaging strategic investors versus financial buyers in terms of retaining a company’s culture and reducing uncertainty. They noted the importance of understanding founders’ differing motivations and interests related to making the choice between cashing out and walking away or continuing to lead the company.
A separate panel on securing, preserving, and protecting capital shared the following tips for raising startup and growth capital in an increasingly competitive environment:
VCs look for entrepreneurs that embrace change, show true passion, and collaborate well with others.
It’s better to fail than to miss an opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes and build upon constructive criticism or rejection.
Raising less money can be a virtue. Early-stage companies sometimes make the mistake of asking for too much money, and giving up too much equity in return.
3. Extracting Maximum Value from Intellectual Property
In reflecting on the importance of IP to generate revenue and protect innovations, another panel discussion entitled, “The Business and Monetization of IP,” covered how to best leverage a firm’s assets. The panelists stressed the benefit of constantly identifying new innovations throughout the product development cycle and using various tools to protect IP, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and contracts. They also suggested taking advantage of continuation applications – new applications based on an original patent application – to build and maintain a robust patent portfolio.
4. Global Compliance Pressure Mounts
During this era of globalization, companies that expand into international markets often find themselves in unfamiliar regulatory and compliance territory. Comprised of panelists from leading global companies, the discussion entitled, “International Expansion: Risks and Rewards,” yielded several pieces of guidance for those looking beyond the borders of the United States:
Conduct due diligence on your partners and customers.
Perform risk-based assessments in the jurisdictions and markets in which you operate and assess the corresponding compliance risks.
Document your due diligence in case you need to show a regulator that the company undertook all reasonable and necessary precautions.
Continually audit your compliance systems and assess effectiveness.
In the constantly evolving tech industry, it remains to be seen how these issues will unfold in the coming year. But, from the dynamic and thought-provoking discussions at FoleyTECH Boston 2016, we can be sure that these trends, challenges, and innovations will make for an intriguing 2017.