1871 COO Tom Alexander chatted with Techweek CEO Katy Lynch about her new role, her plans for Techweek, and the Chicago tech scene ahead of Techweek 2015. Here's what we learned:
TA: How did this new role come to pass? Was this something you sought or did it come to you?
KL: Great question! I moved from the UK to Chicago back in 2007. I was first introduced to the 'startup scene' when I worked as the head of social media for Where I've Been, Facebook's largest travel application. When Where I've Been sold to Tripadvisor in 2010, I spun off and started my own agency, called SocialKaty, which was geared towards consulting startups on their social media strategy. I sold SocialKaty to Manifest Digital in 2014.
Being active in this community and experiencing first hand what it means to start, operate, raise money, and sell a business has made me passionate about growing the tech community and bringing these experiences to as many people as possible.
I was on the board of Techweek for a year. No-one really planned it... the stars just aligned!
TA: Why did you take the job?
KL: I took it because I believe in the Techweek mission: To build a better world through tech entrepreneurship.
The idea of connecting awesome people with kick-ass ideas is something that really excites me. And this is totally what Techweek is all about! Connecting VC's with founders, aspiring entrepreneurs with mentors, students with startups.
TA: What's your number one goal with the new position? What makes this a success?
KL: Techweek, for me, is about bringing people together. My plan is to make Techweek as diverse as possible. This includes people of all nationalities and all backgrounds.
Ultimately, we are a platform that aims to reach everyone who is passionate about technology and innovation.
TA: Last year, obviously, Techweek was in the news for a lot of the wrong reasons. What are your thoughts on everything that happened and can you comment about women in tech and how Techweek fits in to that?
KL: What happened last year was unfortunate. The Techweek team have come a long way from that incident. Lots of lessons learned.
We recognize that there needs to be more women in tech, and we have made concerted efforts to include them into everything we do.
We are focusing on the future now, where we will continue welcoming everyone in tech.
TA: What do you think of where the Chicago tech scene is right now? What are the biggest challenges and opportunities?
KL: There's never been a better time to start or join a tech company. Chicago is a market with diverse industry and millions of hard-working people with all sorts of skills. People who execute well have access to capital and those who are struggling don't need to look for help and advice.
The biggest challenge is going to be summer time! I can't wait to get outside and be distracted!
TA: What are you hoping to do differently or new?
KL: We have a lot of cool initiatives that we're rollin' out.
First and foremost, we are expanding both domestically and internationally. We've got our eyes on Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Boston and Toronto.
Additionally, we are changing the name of our Launch competition to the Techweek Launch Championship, which will now be a 2-day pitch tournament where startups compete to win cash and prizes. Think of it as our version of Shark Tank. It's pretty rad.
We're also starting a fund, the 100 Cities Fund, an investment vehicle that will financially back the winners of the regional and national Launch champions!
TA: You and Craig are sort of a modern "tech family." Tell us a bit about your tech life, if you would.
KL: We sure are. I met Craig at his startup, Where I've Been. We immediately hit it off, probably due to our dry British humour, as well as our love for gadgets and robots.
In fact, Craig built a house robot for us. Its name is 'Jarvis' and it performs menial tasks, like opening the drapes and turning on relaxing music in the morning. I have absolutely no idea how it works, but I love it. (Craig, if you're reading this, please program Jarvis to do some new and exciting things!!)
TA: What are you most excited about at Techweek Chicago this year? What should everyone make sure they see?
KL: I'm definitely pumped up about Launch. It's so wonderful to see so many entrepreneurs gather in the same place, showcasing their startups to attendees and VC's. It's truly one of the most popular events at Techweek in every city.
We've also got a fab line-up of speakers as well as great sponsors. If you haven't bought your pass yet, get on it!