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San Francisco Tech Scene Opens Its Doors for Innovation Month

John Battelle aims to blow the typical tech conference inside out
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It started on two wheels. Federated Media executive chairman John Battelle and MagnaGlobal Intelligence managing partner Brian Monahan were mountain biking together in the spring when Monahan pitched the idea to Battelle.

A board member of San Francisco Bay Area Interactive Group (sfBIG), Monahan and others wanted to put an event highlighting San Francisco’s media, marketing and technology scene. While the marketing industry organization regularly hosted events, Monahan had something bigger in mind—bigger that what the organization likely could pull off alone.

So Monahan looked to Battelle, cofounder of San Francisco’s most high-profile tech event Web 2.0 Summit.

“I thought it was interesting but said I was taking a year off to write a book, so I told him 'I’ll work a treatment up,'” said Battelle. He put the idea on the “middle-to-back burner,” he said, but did write a three-page outline of what such an event might look like. The more he picked at the idea, the more he liked it.

Battelle began to bounce it off others. Then in June he attended a cocktail party being thrown by Ron Conway, the Don Corleone of the Bay Area tech scene. “Ron, what do you think,” Battelle asked. Conway pounced. “Oh, my God, you have to do this,” exclaimed the high-profile investor. Conway grabbed Battelle by the shoulder and put him in front of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. According to Battelle, Lee loved the idea. At the time he was planning to name October the city’s first-ever Innovation Month.

"Why not hold the event then?," Lee proposed.

“I thought, 'Oh, shit, that’s a few months from now,” admits Battelle. “But we did it.”

On Thursday night Battellemedia, in partnership with the mayor’s office, sfBIG, sf:citi, Golightly House, Federated Media, 215McCann and Anthem Worldwide, will launch OpenCoSF. The kickoff event is relatively standard fare, albeit with outsized attendees. Battelle will host a fireside chat with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, followed by a panel featuring Conway and GitHub cofounder and CEO Tom Preston-Werner. Then, Friday is when things go way outside the norm.

“For 15 years I’ve done conferences where you get 1,200 people in a dark room and parade smart people from the industry in front of them,” said Battelle. Instead OpenCoSF plans to bring attendees into the industry leaders’ offices so that they can get a feel for their offices and how they work. Eighty-five companies, including Google, Twitter, Zynga, Salesforce, Adobe and Federated Media, will host hourly open houses throughout the day on Friday for OpenCoSF attendees to drop by to hear—and see—more about these companies as well as how it fits into the Bay Area ecosystem.

“This is what happens when you take a typical tech conference and blow it inside out,” said Battelle, who described the event as “mashing up an artist open studio with a music festival and a tech conference.”

Last Friday OpenCoSF began letting its now roughly 1,500 attendees register for which companies they’d like to visit—sessions are limited to 100 attendees—and by Monday 20 companies had already maxed out their capacity.

While OpenCoSF is Innovation Month’s flagship event, its anchor is InnovateSF.com. The mayor will host a party Thursday night at the Westfield San Francisco Centre shopping mall to officially launch the site, which features a startup map that users can navigate to see the various companies and investors based in San Francisco. It’s like Foursquare for people who work at or invest in Foursquare (the New York-based company does have a San Francisco office).

“The startup map is a great hook to get people seeing the huge transformation happening as San Francisco becomes the epicenter for startups,” said the Mayor’s Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath. “This is an initial effort, and we’ll be building on the map, showing hiring and investments made by venture capitalists into the area.”

In fact, the launches of both OpenCoSF and InnovateSF.com can be considered pilots. Battelle is already considering bringing the event to other cities such as Boston, Austin and Detroit and extending it into a multiday festival a' la Bonnaroo. And Nath hopes to expand future Innovation Months beyond a sole focus on tech to include other industries such as food.