The one thing that startups can relate to is constant change. And that seems to be the case with one of the iconic and debatable tech conferences nationally, and especially in Chicago – Techweek.
The change I am alluding to is both in terms of mission as much as it is in structure.
Female entrepreneurs and women in tech usually ask if Techweek Chicago is worth it?
And, while there’s a blatant answer – go to the women in tech breakfast, which is part of Techweek, where 20 different leading technical women and entrepreneurs will speak, there are other considerations.
So, Windy City Cosmo reached out to the CEO of Techweek, Amanda Signorelli to get your questions answered about what to wear to Techweek, who should attend, and most importantly, what you’re signing up for. Because, as a past attendee (2013 and 2014), Techweek Chicago is not going to be like the Greek parties you’ve read about in 2013, nor have tricks up its sleeves like Microsoft’s act as sponsor in 2014, nor have to squash the sexist commentary and then transition like 2015.
No, this year, Techweek Chicago is going to be different. More serious. More structured. More impactful, maybe. And if you’re intrigued, there’s a discount code at the bottom of the article.
“Techweek was founded in 2011 as a small conference to gather the tech community that began bubbling after the Groupon IPO,” Signorelli shared, “Since 2011, we’ve seen the ecosystem grow and evolve from a nascent market to now a top-tier global tech ecosystem, driven by the growth in B2B software companies.”
Techweek: More Compact
Techweek Chicago is turning into more of a tech day, with just one full day of sessions and then a handful of sponsored events June 19-23, 2017.
At first glance, the conference seems light. I pulled out my calendar to block off sessions, and the substance was less frill and more business – which seems to be the new direction of Techweek. Sessions will touch on high-growth startup strategies and diversity in tech, as well as acquisitions and scaling businesses.
“Techweek this year is all about the content,” Signorelli shared, “Every evening event we have will be anchored with recognizing leaders in the community or sharing knowledge around a specific topic.”
I moved along to the speakers and familiar players from after work networking events are coming thru to impart their tips and techniques including Mike Rothman, CEO of SMS Assist; Pat Vihtelic, CEO of Home Chef; Amanda Lannert, CEO of Jellyvision; and Justyn Howard CEO of Sprout Social.
Usually, Techweek Chicago emphasizes their interactive sessions, networking opportunities, and their job fair, and launch competition to showcase the Chicago tech scene. And, I’m here to say, that all of those things are still part of the Techweek Chicago 2017 agenda.
Techweek Chicago Conference Highlights:
- Techweek Chicago Kick-Off Party: Monday, June 19 at 5 p.m. at the MillerCoors rooftop
- The Capital One Gathering, which will take over three floors and feature 3D printerspace, coding, robot wars and more: Tuesday, June 20 at 5 pm at Capital One
- Techweek Launch Showcase, a summit featuring top local startups from the Techweek100: Wednesday, June 21 at 5:30 pm at the Bottom Lounge in the West Loop
- Nerdery Virtual Reality Event, with leading content and interactive activities: Wednesday, June 21 at 7 pm at the Nerdery
- Women in Tech Breakfast, where female business leaders share their thoughts on tech entrepreneurship, in partnership with Syndio: Thursday, June 22 at 7:30 am at VenueSix10
- Growth Summit, panel of CEO’s speaking about company growth topics: Thursday, June 22 at 8:30 am at VenueSix10
- GoGo Air Gathering, featuring the passenger experience in the future: 5:30 pm on Thursday, June 22 at GoGo Air
- Techweek Gives Event, announcing the most generous company: Wednesday, June 21 (time and location TBD)
Techweek Charity: Give Back to S.T.E.A.M.
Another part of Techweek Chicago that is changing is that it is focusing on giving back. Techweek launched TechweekGives this year as an opportunity for Chicago’s technology community to come together and give money, time and goods to S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) and other nonprofits. The goal is to raise $1 million over a 90-day period, and two months in, they are over halfway to their goal with nearly $600K in money, goods and volunteer hours.
Interview with the CEO of Techweek:
What innovations are you most excited about in the next five years?
Signorelli: It’s hard to pick just one source of innovation, but I am personally excited to see the future of driverless cars because I hope that in the next five years, we can make the roads substantially safer for everyone. Yes, autonomous vehicles are cool, but they’ll also save lives.
Do you find that in the launch competition that there is a focus on one type of technology or business model that resonates with the tech community? Feel free to give an example.
Signorelli: Chicago is a B2B (Business to Business) tech city. While the B2C companies are certainly the easiest to digest in terms of business model, B2B startups resonate well with the tech community. From our finalists last year, we had strong representation from both models, MailControl, AcesHealth, and Shurpa were B2B and Schlep and Parqex were B2C (Business to Consumer).
As a woman leading a tech conference, did you have any reservations? Why did you choose this role?
Signorelli: No, I was fortunate to succeed a great female entrepreneur, Katy Lynch, before I took over and I never felt any reservations joining nor taking on the role. I choose this position because I truly love to learn about tech and early stage companies. I enjoy doing due diligence on interesting companies and seeing how tech trends evolve across markets.
Are there any female entrepreneurs that you are partnering with this year?
Signorelli: This year we have our Women in Tech breakfast kicking off the Growth Summit, which will feature 20 different leading technical women and entrepreneurs. Our Growth Summit lineup also includes some fantastic female entrepreneurs such as Nicole Staple, CEO of Brideside and Kristi Zhulke, CEO of Knowledgehound.
What advice would you give a woman who is interested in tech and wondering how to gain skills in the community?
Signorelli: Build relationships and take notes. There are numerous organizations that offer great classes to teach hard skills and can help build a toolkit needed for a startup. However, what’s equally important is being engaged in the community and meeting the entrepreneurs who have success and listening to them. Take notes, ask questions, and be curious.
Often times in tech, there are women-only conferences, what value do co-ed conferences bring to women?
Signorelli: I’ve had this conversation with many fellow female entrepreneurs and there’s no right answer. However, I personally believe it is vital to have co-ed conferences that include dialogue from both genders. I want to celebrate great entrepreneurs for being just that—entrepreneurs—not just because they are female. That doesn’t change what they’ve accomplished. If we truly want to see a state of equity, all parties must share an equal voice.
Do you think Techweek has helped change the dynamic of a more inclusive (gender, race, education) tech community? How so?
Signorelli: Techweek is a reflection of the local community, and consequently, is a catalyst for conversation, which provides a chance to push for a more inclusive environment. Last year, in partnership with Capital One, we expanded the focus of diversity to include programs that fostered the development of technical skills for those with disabilities.
Techweek keeps growing, is there a reason someone should choose to attend Techweek Chi in their hometown vs. traveling to Techweek New York or LA?
Signorelli: Every Techweek event, just like our markets, is different. In LA, you’ll hear about fashion, ecommerce and e-gaming startups, while NYC is heavily weighted towards FinTech and media. And separately, Chicago has an emphasis around B2B SAS companies and Big Data. Someone should choose to attend a Techweek depending on their industry interest.
People on social media often ask, is it worth it to attend, so who will be most impacted by the content and people at Techweek?
Signorelli: Techweek is a thoughtful assembly of events, each with its own purpose and ideal audience. Tech enthusiasts, students and engineers should attend our community festival. Early stage entrepreneurs and angel investors should attend the startup showcase and senior level executives, founders, and Venture Capitalists should attend Growth Summit. We work hard to ensure that there is something for everyone at Techweek.
What should you wear to Techweek – for men and women?
Signorelli: We have early stage startup employees, bankers, Fortune 500 executives, and students. Everyone should feel comfortable wearing their work attire—with a touch of Techweek red!
Techweek Chicago Discount Tickets:
Tickets are on sale at Techweek.com/Chicago. There are three tickets this year, including a free pass. Plus, we are offering a 15% off Techweek Chicago discount code using: WINDYCITY.