Innovation

Innovation Project Has Arrived

The big day has finally arrived — no thanks to Mother Nature, who decided to throw a disruption of her own at the year’s biggest celebration of innovation in the shape of a blizzard named Stella.

But while we may have spent some portion of the last few days doing our best Marlon Brando in a “Streetcar Named Desire” impression — clenching our fists and shouting “Stella!” into the night — some things just can’t be stopped. The fifth anniversary of Innovation Project in Harvard Square today being one extremely tenacious example.

Another being the future — which co-incidentally will be our special area of focus this year when IP gets up and running in just a few hours. Payments have always been about what’s next, Karen Webster recently noted, from the first exchanges made for seashells to bitcoin and beyond.

And in the world of payments and commerce, the future races forward so fast that it can be easy to forget the world we live in today is in fact a very different one from five years ago, when IP first convened on Harvard’s campus in 2012.

Five years ago, Apple Pay wasn’t even a rumor yet; services like Kohl’s Pay and Walmart Pay weren’t on the drawing board; MCX didn’t quite exist yet and PayPal was still mostly associated with being the payments arm of eBay. No one had ever heard the word chatbot; AI personal assistants were things that existed in Marvel Universe Movies, not real life; Netflix’s doom was predicted often; self-driving cars were science fiction; Macy’s was one of the top retailers in America and almost no one had even the faintest idea of what an Uber was — or why anyone would want one.

It’s been a long journey in a short time, and, as Karen Webster noted in her intro to IP earlier this year, there is now really only one question left to answer: But where do we go from here?

The big answers there are complex — but we’ll get to them in a minute. The simple answer is … well, simple. Go to Innovation Project, aka “The Davos of Payments,” for two days of closed-door, off-the-record conversations on the campus of Harvard University.

So who are we chatting with this year? Honestly, it would probably be easier to list who we aren’t talking to — but perhaps less informative.

Coming back for another appearance are fireside chats with Karen Webster, so that CEOs and thought leaders get a one-on-one chance to give us a glimpse into what they think the future role of innovation will be. This year coming to chat are Visa CEO Al Kelley, PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Worldpay NA CEO Kim Crawford, First Data CEO Frank Bisignano and Verifone CEO Paul Galant, as well as an in-depth discussion between Walmart’s Daniel Eckert and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance about the need to make commerce innovation more inclusive.

The panels will include discussions on the future of banking and credit, innovating in a regulatory world order, the challenges inherent in the internet of things and what it will take for brick-and-mortar merchants to survive the reinvention of retail.

The group talks will feature insights from Harvard PhD, data scientist and author Cathy O’Neil, who wrote Weapons of Math Destruction, Admiral James Stavridis, Nest Co-Founder Tony Fadell, Visa’s Jim McCarthy, LevelUp’s Seth Priesbach, among many, many others.

And then there’s the developer challenges around AR/VR, Next Gen B2B Payments and Alexa, along with access to more than 40 emerging innovators, who will showcase their innovations during the Innovators Expo.

Plus — what is innovation without competition?

There are no participation trophies in payments, but the truly disruptive will be honored at our gala, the Innovator Awards Dinner, at Fenway Park hosted by Jason Alexander. Yes, that Jason Alexander, who played George on Seinfeld. We’ll be inducting the 2017 class into the Payments Hall of Fame® and honoring the 90 finalists to receive best-in-class awards.

It will be just like the Oscars, except shorter, more fun and the awards will be given out to the right people.

Not in Cambridge this week? Mistake. But one you can rectify that a little by tuning in throughout the week as we bring you snippets from the voices of IP and some brief behind-the-curtains glances at what’s next. Stay tuned — we have all the latest mobile wallet adoption numbers, and we can guarantee payment peeps are going to want to see those.

And, of course, you really should think about booking your reservation for next year. We do IP rain, shine or blizzards, as it turns out. And so do the innovators who join us.

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