There is good reason to be excited about Detroit’s technology scene. Thanks to a group of local young entrepreneurs, some of the biggest names in new and social media will be heading to Royal Oak for the largest technology and knowledge conference in this region.
Fresh ideas and new ways of doing things are often born in times of peril and uncertainty. This conference is a great example of that. The idea for the FutureMidwest Conference began with Jordan Wolfe. He had recently moved back to Michigan from San Francisco and noticed the lack of what he calls “nonlinear, out of the box” networking events, and really wanted to invigorate the area.
“I had just started an educational software company, and I got together with two friends and I said, ‘Hey let’s put something together that’s a little bit different,’ just to get the energy up. Everyone had a bad mindset because the auto companies were doing terrible. So, I thought, let’s get energy up. Let’s get businesses involved, learn about technology, and do it in a cool location,” said Wolfe.
This conference became Tech Now ’09, and Wolfe got a hefty 800 people to participate at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. It was this event that really sparked the beginning for FutureMidwest, “After that event [Tech Now ’09], I had met a gentleman named Adrian Pittman. Adrian had put a conference on last year called the Module [Midwest Digital] Conference. His conference was much more educational.”
Wolfe and Pittman hit it off and immediately saw how to bring together their respective conferences, Tech Now ’09 and Module Midwest Digital Conference, into one mega conference. “Within 15 minutes, we decided to put these two conferences together. We kind of brought that entertainment, networking component into it and he [Pittman] was much more on the educational side,” said Wolfe.[caption id="attachment_1037" align="alignleft" width="172" caption="Jay Adelson, Former CEO, Digg"][/caption]
FutureMidwest is very much in tune with the educational side of things as evidenced by its format and list of presenters. Spread out over two days, there will be 3 interactive workshops, hands-on demonstrations, a moderated panel discussion, and 10 presentations from industry experts.
The presenters come from various backgrounds, including advertising sales, digital marketing and strategy, to name a few.
There is no doubt that anyone involved in business development, brand managers, communication professionals, and entrepreneurs, among other people, will learn something beneficial for their businesses.
Since there is a slim chance that the stacked list of presenters do not motivate you to check out the conference, then how about a keynote address given by former CEO and Chairman of Digg, Jay Adelson?
The conference is designed so that people can interact and enjoy themselves, but also better their understanding of implementing digital strategy. “It is not about putting a Facebook or Twitter page up. There’s a strategy behind it. There needs to be a strategy, and it must deliver value for your consumers or clients,” said Wolfe.
There will be much to learn, but also much fun to have. A sure hit will be the street party featuring local businesses and live music, and an all access networking reception to keep the mood fun and fresh.
FutureMidwest will take place April 16th-17th, The full 2-day event is $200, and there are student and business packages available. For those only interested in attending the networking reception, tickets will be sold individually for $25. Visit FutureMidwest.com for more details.
Founders Wolfe, Pittman, and Zack Lipson, hooked up with Frank Gruber of Tech Cocktail, a media and events company that is geared toward better connecting the startup technology community, to help kick off FutureMidwest. The Tech Cocktail mixer event will be held on April 15th at BlackFinn American Saloon in Royal Oak.
Tech Cocktail is known for hosting events in other major cities, such as Boston and Chicago. They have held events in Ann Arbor, but this is their first event in the Metro Detroit area. Gruber describes Tech Cocktail as “literally a cocktail of tech people, online and off. We’re trying to create that environment and platform where we’re mixing the marketers, developers, and entrepreneurs. Designers are also a big component. We gather them all together and provide an environment where innovation happens,” said Gruber.
One way that Tech Cocktail is able to galvanize the tech community is by showcasing startups at different events. A handful of Michigan startups will be showcased at this particular event, and local entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply. Application forms can be found at TechCocktail.com.
Gruber is passionate about helping build strong technology communities and feels his platform is a great help, “In general, I think the biggest issue is that startups don’t take a look back and reflect on their story. If you just launch a company– sometimes [it’s] more strong on the tech side than the storytelling side. We really try to help the companies mold their story…of how their company was created, evolved, who it’s for, and really try to help them leverage our platform to tell their story.”
Brandon Chesnutt, one of the forward thinking minds behind i-Detroit.com, is also active in building up the tech and interactive culture in the area. “We wanted to create something for people here to find out what’s going on and to keep connected–and where people from the outside looking in could see what we’re up to,” said Chesnutt of i-Detroit.com. The website has been active for about 8 months, and the people who help to run the site are closely connected to what is happening with FutureMidwest. “There’s a small, very passionate community here–creative community–who really understand and get it. I call them the influencers,” said Wolfe.
The “influencers” are really making a strong impression in Detroit’s technological landscape with events like FutureMidwest and Tech Cocktail. Another event coming to the area is Startup Weekend Detroit.
“Startup Weekend is tech based, but involves all kinds of professionals. Anyone can really get involved. It’s a 54 hour startup event, where we bring people together in the community that typically have never worked together before–we put them in a room, come up with ideas, and try to come up with new companies in one weekend,” according to Chesnutt.
The event will be held on May 14th-16th at Wayne State University in the engineering building. The cost is $50 regular price, and $35 for students. For more information visit http://detroit.startupweekend.org
A lot will be taking place over the next several months that will greatly influence Detroit’s tech scene and the way it is viewed across the country. For those young, forward thinkers searching for the next big industry to be a part of, this just may be it.
“There’s a strong need in the overall midwest region for this type of programming, and I think Detroit has an unbelievable opportunity, just because of how bad things have gotten, to regain this idea of being a hub of innovation. That’s my goal. I want Detroit to become, once again, this area for the most forward thinking, innovative– innovative environment where we’re going to bring in people from all around the region and country, like we’re doing this year, to be at the forefront of what’s going on in the digital world,” said Wolfe.
- Elisse Ramey for I Am Young Detroit