By Payton Potter
Now in its fourth year, Digital Fight Club is returning later this month to the Granada Theater in Dallas. Take a look inside the upcoming fight night and the events that led to its creation.
Michael Pratt thinks panels are boring. That’s the inspiration behind Digital Fight Club, a no-holds-barred event that pits technology experts against each other in a head-to-head, rapid-fire discussion on a hot-button topic rooted in innovation. And, it’s returning to Dallas later this month.
Pratt, who spends most of his days as CEO of Panamplify, told Dallas Innovates the idea for founding Digital Fight Club was born as most good ideas are: over beers with a friend.
Pratt says he was having drinks at Uptown’s Common Table with Andrew Hopkins, managing director of Industry X.0 at Accenture, when conversation turned to the Accenture Interactive Trends Book. “They wanted to be seen as thought leaders, but they weren’t sure if anybody even read [the trends book],” he says. “And I was lamenting that I kind of run out of ideas for innovative events. And we somehow came to this notion that panels are boring.”
The pair decided to combine their frustrations and find a solution—and so Digital Fight Club was born.
Pratt and Hopkins decided to match up experts in a raucous debate, pulling items from the trends book to use as debate topics. And the result was explosive.
“In a panel, no one’s incentivized to actually say what they think. Everybody wants to pontificate and be seen as an august professional waxing eloquently. But no one really learns anything,” Pratt says. “With that in mind, we somehow just came to, ‘Well, why don’t we make people who are really smart, have done a lot, and are experts in a particular field, fight?’”
Digital Fight Club goes hand-in-hand with Digital Dallas, an organization Pratt founded some ten years ago to bolster the entrepreneurial community in North Texas.
According to Digital Dallas’ website, the organization has two missions: growing the community of digital professionals in the region and helping to brand North Texas as a “center of excellence” in digital fields. It accomplishes these goals with nontraditional events intended to help professionals build meaningful professional relationships.
“I have sincerely believed in the vibrancy of the Dallas-Fort Worth tech community for 10 years, which inspired the founding of Digital Dallas in 2010,” Pratt says
How Digital Fight Club works
The hour-long event is made up of five 10-minute rounds, each moderated by five referees and consisting of two questions. For each question (the second of which is a ‘jump ball’), both fighters have a 45-second opening and a 30-second rebuttal. When the fight is over, the audience and referees use a mobile app to vote for who they think is the winner.
“If you get up there in front of an audience, you’ve got to make a point and argue. You’re not pulling any punches, and you’re not on a panel—you have to commit,” Pratt says. “We have a cocktail party beforehand; we have an after party afterwards. We encourage commentary, participation, cat calling, you name it.”
And though the 2019 event is only the fourth Fight Night to be held in Dallas, Pratt says big names in North Texas entrepreneurship have taken notice. Former referees include Mark Cuban and C-suite executives from 7-Eleven, Frito-Lay, AT&T, Texas Utilities, and WeWork.
Digital Fight Club 2019
This year’s event will be held at The Granada Theater on Greenville Avenue in East Dallas. Doors will open at 6 p.m. and the fights will start at 7 p.m. At 8, the fights will end and attendees are welcome to head over to the Sundown Saloon for drinks and networking.
When does the night end? Well, that’s a bit unclear. Pratt says it’s not uncommon to see C-suite execs milling around the saloon late into the night.
This year’s fighters will duke it out over five topics, Public Transport Technology: Taming the Wild West, Secure Me: Digital Safety across the ecosystem, Silence: To digitally disconnect or not, Synthetic Reality: Does real even matter?, and Get to Know Me: Data, Personalization & Privacy.
When it comes to public transport technology, Steven Duong, (VP of design and planning at AECOM) will go head-to-head with Robert Mundinger (founder of TheMap.net). Taking on the topic of digital safety are Lee Harrison (CEO of Thru) and Stephen Ellis (CTO of Plymouth AI).
Digital connection will be tackled by two mind experts: Jennifer Zientz (director of clinical services at Center for BrainHealth) and Michelle Adams (president of marketing at Brainology).
While the Digital Fight Club experience is far from a synthetic reality, two experts will still dig into the topic. This round pits Farrukh Malik (CEO of Roomored) against Steve Nix (CEO of ForwardXP).
Lastly, data, personalization, and privacy will be the topic of discussion between Mike Orren (chief product officer, Dallas Morning News/Belo) and Andy Chen (senior vice president of +1 Labs: Match).
Pratt promises attendees an entertaining and informative forum filled with engaging debate and lively pop shots, followed by best-in-class networking. At any rate, the once-a-year event is not to be missed.
“Everybody says they wish it lasted longer,” Pratt says. “The reason it doesn’t is because when we we start at 7, and it’s over at 8, everybody is so jazzed that they want to go talk about it. So, they all migrate right next door at the sundown saloon, and the after party on a Wednesday goes to 11.”