Tech Sponsors Return to Beleaguered Data Conference in Indiana

Post-NCAA Defeat, There's a Bright Light in the Midwest After All

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Despite the bruising defeat of Duke over Wisconsin in the NCAA men's basketball tourney in Indiana last night, there is one bright spot in the Midwest today. Sponsors are returning to the IndyBigData Conference, an Indianapolis event that was almost left for dead after the backlash against a controversial Indiana law compelled several firms including Amazon to pull out.

"We were disappointed when the first sponsor left, but then when the next went and the next went we realized, 'Oh my gosh, we've got to say something,' " said Christine van Marter, CEO of Indiana startup Conference Ventures, which is putting on the Indy Big Data show in May. "This is having a direct and immediate impact on us now." The conference company used social media to petition Indiana government to alter a new law that was deemed discriminatory.

Now that the law has been changed, a bunch of sponsors have returned to the event. Cloudera, HortonWorks, Information Builders, Platfora, EMC, Pivotal and Isolan -- firms that help enterprises store, manage and analyze data -- are back, according to Ms. van Marter. It's the first conference the young Indianapolis firm will get off the ground, making the potential damage of the sponsor exodus that much more potent had they not returned.

Two additional sponsors have also joined: Cspring and Perscio, tech consultancies based in Indianapolis.

"If anything's happened, the conference has become more robust," suggested Ms. van Marter.

The terms of the sponsorship deals remain the same as when the companies first joined the conference, which promises to help attendees mine "big data for big profits."

Two well-known sponsor holdouts remain, though: Amazon and Oracle have not returned, according to Ms. van Marter, who said she recently sent an email to all former-sponsors in the hopes of welcoming them back.

"When they left, they said we have to go because of the political climate in Indiana," she said.

At issue was Indiana's Religious Freedom Reform Act, which some interpreters believed would have allowed businesses to refuse services to gay people on religious grounds. The legislation spurred a nationwide protest and boycott that prompted Indiana Governor Mike Pence to call for amendments to the bill before signing it. He signed the bill into law on April 2, after changes were made.

The compromise legislation specifies that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is unclear whether Amazon or Oracle will change their minds and return to IndyBigData.

"We have not heard from Amazon yet but we hope they do come back," said Ms. van Marter, adding, "We haven't heard from Oracle either." Neither company responded to requests to comment for this story.

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