Genesis of a Conference: How COFES Came to Be
“For me, the real value of a conference, trade show, or meeting is in the time I spend meeting industry people—and learning from them,” explains COFES Co-founder and president of the Purecor, Evan Yares. “Although it’s interesting to listen to the speeches, attend the classes, and walk the show floor, it’s far more interesting to sit down on a couch, turn to the person sitting next to me, and find out what they do. Whether they’re the president of a big company, or they work as an independent CAD drafter, they’re likely to say something interesting. This industry is full of brilliant people. If you just listen to them, you can learn a lot.”
COFES was founded on the idea that one-on-one interaction and the building of community are the most valuable functions of an industry forum. COFES eschews the distractions of a trade show floor and the formality of executive presentations for a comfortable, causal atmosphere consisting of large and small group discussions with the most influential players and most innovative minds of the software world.
The three founders of COFES, Yares, Dr. Joel Orr, and Brad Holtz, originally became friends through industry conferences. The idea for COFES sprang from a casual discussion itself, between Yares and Orr, on their desire to assemble the presidents of CAD firms in such a context, provoking a free exchange of ideas among people who have both the vision and the connections turn ideas into reality.
“Sometimes, casual conversations have a way of taking on a life of their own. In this case, it was Brad Holtz—then conference director for A/E/C SYSTEMS—who brought our nascent idea to life,” says Yares. “In an incredibly short time, he pulled together exactly the kind of event we imagined.”
The result was the November 1999 Summit on the Future of Engineering Software, a first-of-its-kind meeting to which the founders assembled 64 decision-making industry leaders in CAD at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago.
“The first summit was unlike any event I'd ever experienced,” recalls Yares. “Here people who normally would be standing in front of the room giving speeches were instead relaxing and talking openly to one another about their visions and concerns for the future.”
In May 2000, the organizers held the follow-up event among palm trees and swimming pools in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Congress on the Future of Engineering Software, COFES 2000, invited 164 CAD industry leaders – this time including editors, analysts, and consultants. As with the Summit, the goal was to bring together people of influence and vision in the CAD industry for the opportunity to freely talk in a relaxed, open environment, a enjoyable retreat from the everyday pace of business.
“It’s remarkable what can happen without the circus-midway atmosphere typical of many conferences and trade shows,” says Yares. “At COFES, people who normally would be pitching their company’s products get the chance to relax, enjoy themselves, and walk away with great contacts and great ideas.”
Participants praised COFES as a unique and worthwhile experience, rating it the best industry event seen in decades. The meeting also attracted attention from many corporate sponsors, such as Microsoft, UGS, and Hewlett Packard.
“Having a large sponsor such as HP really validated the positive feedback we'd heard from attendees,” comments Yares. “Although HP sponsors a lot of trade shows and conferences, rarely do they endorse such a small event as ours.”
Now, COFES is an annual spring ritual for professionals who make their living by thinking strategically about the future of engineering software. To maintain an intimate level of communication, attendance in Scottsdale has always been limited. Interested parties may apply for an invitation at http://apply.cofes.com.
Plans to extend the COFES conversation to an international dialogue are now in the works. The invitation-only COFES-India Summit -- modeled much like the groundbreaking 1999 meeting in Chicago that launched the original COFES – was held on November 2006 in New Dehli. “The aim is to create the same bond of community with international engineering firms,” says Cyon Research CEO Brad Holtz. “Given that our industry is quickly growing more and more global, this is definitely the right time to start building new relationships.”
In 2010, international outreach versions of COFES were held in Moscow and Tel Aviv. We returned to Russia in 2013 for COFES Russia and plan to on going back again when tensions between the US and Russia ease.