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Bringing the Best Together: WB Connect Conference to Spotlight Innovation


Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, PA - Three days, 58 speakers, 250 participants.


Next month, an event sponsored by a part of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce will bring doers, thinkers, students and a host of business and creative types together to showcase the transformation of Northeastern Pennsylvania into a hub of innovation.


The inaugural Wilkes-Barre Connect Conference is scheduled for Nov. 17 to 19. Wilkes-Barre Connect is chamber’s the entrepreneurial and economic development arm.


“The conference is an opportunity to educate, motivate and inspire our next generation of leaders,” Wilkes-Barre Connect Executive Director Joseph A. Boylan told the Times Leader.



“Not only will the best and brightest of Northeastern Pennsylvania be presenting, but we have drawn thought leaders from across the country to Wilkes-Barre, representing IBM, Microsoft, MIT, the Obama White House, and the U.S. Postal Service,” Boylan added.

What is happening

Activities will kick off on Sunday, Nov. 17 with a welcome and cocktail reception from 5 to 8 p.m. at the THINK Center on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, featuring food, drinks and live entertainment.


The conference sessions will then take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 18 and Tuesday, Nov. 19 at The Woodlands Inn & Resort on Route 315 in Plains Township.


It will “present the programs behind our innovative and creative culture, and tell the story of the amazing people, places and businesses right here in NEPA,” a Chamber description states, and will feature thoughts leaders from organizations including those mentioned by Boylan.


“The three-day event will showcase the transformation of Northeastern Pennsylvania, into a hub of innovation, relying on creative storytelling and presentations from the region’s best students, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and young professionals shaping our region,” according to the event’s official website,, and “attendees will have the opportunity to grow personally and professionally by attending sessions within our four featured tracks: Innovate, Connect, Elevate and Accelerate.”

Featured speakers

The featured speakers, according to the website, are scheduled to be:

  • Ashleigh Axios, creative director, Obama White House

Axios is an AIGA national board member, the co-creator of DotGovDesign—an initiative connecting and empowering government designers, and an advocate for design’s ability to break barriers and create positive social change.


Axios led Automattic’s in-house creative agency for marketing, communications, and brand identity solutions.


Prior to her role at Automattic, Axios served as the creative director and a digital strategist at the Obama White House.


  • Dr. Alexander Dale, senior officer, MIT Solve

Dale is the Senior Officer for Solve’s Sustainability pillar, where he supports myriad people and organizations passionate about tackling food, energy, water, and climate challenges.


He has an academic background in the life-cycle impacts of energy and water infrastructure, and a professional background in environmental policy, engineering education, and nonprofit management.


Dale is a relentless pragmatic optimist – sees the world as it is, and believes that the future can be better if we roll up our sleeves and work.


  • Abby Downing, creative director, Superfan Company


Downing is a partner and creative director at The Superfan Company, a fan engagement agency focused on creating one-of-a-kind products, programs and strategies for entertainers, brands, and celebrities.


Her design and creative direction has been seen in retail locations such as Target and Cracker Barrel, with MLB teams, at music festivals around the world, and in the hands of superfans who obsess over Shawn Mendes, Brad Paisley, Kacey Musgraves, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry and Jimmy Buffett.


  • Ced Funches, co-founder, Schooold

Funches started his career in the NBA working as an art director and graphic designer for the Minnesota Timberwolves.


A driven entrepreneur, Funches has founded five companies, the first at age 19. He has continued to lead design teams, create socially driven ventures, collaborate, and build creative solutions at a some of the world’s best companies. Ced’s latest venture is Schooold, a passionate and strategic approach to addressing financial literacy in our communities.


  • Julie Anixter, enterprise design principal, Maga Design Inc.

Anixter is an author, speaker, designer and educator committed to positive change for organizations an and individuals through design, branding and innovation.


Prior to serving as the enterprise design principal at Maga Design, Julie Founded Ensemble.Works; Co-Founded Innovation Excellence; and the executive director of AIGA, the professional association for design. Julie is recognized as one of the best in her field, acting as a highly creative and results-oriented innovator.


  • Victoria Stephen, director of mailing services, USPS

Stephen is a visionary innovation director combining engineering and entrepreneurial skill sets, with track record of developing and launching new products that have transformed the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and positioned it as technology and business leader.


She is a dynamic team leader with experience cultivating creative problem-solving in diverse, interdisciplinary teams of engineers, marketing specialists, designers, and sales team members.


A full list of all speakers can be found at the event’s website.

How to participate

  • Fees/Admission: $249 for student tickets and $299 for a regular ticket. Registration also will include a ticket to the Chamber’s annual dinner on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 19, which provides attendees the opportunity to network with over 500 of the area’s business leaders and professionals and celebrate top business honorees.


Students can visit the website to submit a scholarship application to attend. The site also has information for anyone who may want to sponsor a student.

Boylan sees the event as useful to professionals and students, but also as a way to spotlight where Northeastern Pennsylvania has been and where it is headed.


“Our event will validate our transformation from a coal region to a hub of innovation, showcasing the creative spirit of our academic and business community,” he said.

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