Let the countdown begin – Thrival Innovation + Music Festival kicks off two weeks from today at Nova Place. Featuring three riveting days of innovation-focused programming in Alloy 26 and a 2-day music festival headlined by The Chainsmokers, Chvrches, and Thievery Corporation at Carrie Furnaces, Thrival 2016 will be the best one yet. And we’re thrilled to be a part of it.
Under the direction of Dan Law, executive producer of Thrival Festival, this event continues to expand its scope. But we wanted to know how it all began. We turned to Bobby Zappala, co-founder and CEO at Thrill Mill, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to serving early-stage entrepreneurs, to get the scoop on how this Thrill Mill initiative known as Thrival got its start.
Q: Tell us what you want people to know about Thrill Mill. What do you want an outside party, someone who’s never heard of your company and its initiatives, to know about Thrival?
A: In an effort to be succinct, our goal with Thrill Mill is to play our small part to help entrepreneurs, builders, makers and creators achieve greater success and to raise the profile of the Pittsburgh region as a destination for all innovators.
Q: How did Thrival come about?
A: I started Thrival in 2013 as the more grown-up version of a series of small summer parties that my co-founders and I (Luke Skurman, Serge Smailbegovic, Alex Palma and Kevin Heher) would host as an opportunity to gather the movers and shakers together to share ideas and collaborate. The funds raised from those events supported business plan competitions through which we supported early stage startups in the region. Thrival is the “grown up” version of those events. Our goal is to build a platform that facilitates learning, sharing and promoting the region’s incredible creators, builders, innovators and leaders. In short, Thrival’s success is Pittsburgh’s success, and its growth is indicative of the region’s growth.
Q: What do you want attendees (startups/innovators/creators) to get out of Thrival?
A: We want attendees to visit areas of the city with which they aren’t familiar. We want them to meet new people and explore concepts that will affect our region’s growth over the next twenty years. We want them leave feeling a sense of ownership in the programming that extends to a feeling of pride for this great city. Perhaps most important, we want attendees to capture these experiences and create something impactful as a result.
Q: Why Pittsburgh? What is it about Pittsburgh that adds to Thrival’s successes?
A: Pittsburgh’s evolution over the past thirty years is the reason Thrival exists, and as I pointed out above, it’s the reason Thrival has experienced success. Pittsburgh has first-class assets, but sometimes they’re maligned or simply unaware of what others are doing. Thrival simply casts a net across the region and pulls these great assets together.
Q: How will 2016 differ from previous years?
A: In 2016, Thrival will corral a broader audience, rich with diversity both in terms of local attendance and national footprint. The production quality both on the innovation conference side and the music festival side is really top-notch this year and geared toward creating a substantive experience for attendees, speakers, and performers alike.
Q: How are you different from your first Thrival Festival? Or your first year with Thrill Mill?
A: I’m proud to say that the mission hasn’t shifted over the last three years. Rather, we worked hard to establish that Thrill Mill would have a meaningful impact on the region’s innovation ecosystem while promoting Pittsburgh effectively through Thrival Festival. The big difference is size, depth and overall quality. Thrival will certainly reflect this in a couple weeks…and stay tuned for some exciting announcements with regard to the organization’s future near the end of the calendar year…
Q: Why Nova Place? What are you looking forward to the most?
A: We proactively seek out host sites where the stakeholders are as excited about Pittsburgh’s long-term success as we are. When we met Jeremy, we knew we had an opportunity to engage with an energetic, passionate team, which aligns perfectly with our own team. Moreover, foundations like Buhl are pouring their heart and soul into the North Side, so it’s really great to play a small part in adding to the momentum of the neighborhood. I’m excited about the opportunity to activate the Nova Place corridor with more than fifty (free and open to the public) exhibits and interactive setups from the local startup community. It’s going to be phenomenal.
Q: Which keynote speaker, talker, exhibit, or company is exciting you right now?
A: Unfair question…all of our exhibitors and presenters are top-notch! That’s no joke. I encourage everyone to participate in as much as possible.
While Bobby understandably pleads the fifth, we can’t wait to hear about your Thrival experience. Check out the schedule, sign up for as many talks as possible, and get social with us! Tweet it. Post it. Like it.