Tech Town: Could TC Become A Hot Spot In Michigan?
Developers, entrepreneurs and technology-savvy investors now have a collaborative haven in Traverse City. TC New Tech, the new monthly meetup group for all things technology related, is fast becoming the focal point of the region’s expanding tech industry.
“Five years from now, we’ll look back and go, ‘That was it. That was the seed,’” said TC New Tech founder Russell Schindler.
The event’s format, while straightforward, forces participants to move with a quickness emblematic of the entire tech industry. Presenters, who are determined a week prior, have five minutes to speak about their new product, technology, or business venture. Following, there is five minutes of open question and answer time. Presenters can expect to address questions ranging from the nuts and bolts of their product to aspects of its financial viability.
In between presenters, the floor is opened to anyone in the audience looking to make announcements. Presentations are available on TC New Tech’s Youtube channel following the event, which Schindler said provides an additional level of visibility for their product or business, and added value to the event.
While the presentations serve as an informational outlet and open forum, many important connections are actually made afterward when the group moves to a nearby bar.
“That’s where most of the business really get’s done, over cocktails,” said Schindler. “It’s all about networking.”
Schindler’s approach is simple; put enough talented, motivated people in one place and wait for an explosion of ideas and integration.
“That’s how the reactions occur, just through these collisions,” said Schindler, whose own success is a result of fusing innovation and tech industry potential.
Building a tech base
By day Schindler runs SampleServe.com, which specializes in collecting environmental samples. Schindler, who facetiously describes himself as “an innately lazy person,” realized he was actually doing more work than he needed to. It occurred to him the industry software he used could be tweaked to reduce labor while expediting and improving services to his customers. He created programs for auto labeling of samples, creating reports that tracked trends and maps that plotted relevant data. While the end goal was to entice other companies to hire SampleServe, he often found they were more interested in trying to buy his software. Though he initially balked at the idea, eventually Schindler expanded his company’s services to include selling his software. New to the software industry, Schindler was forced to quickly adjust to an entirely new world.
“When you start talking to software people, it’s like they might as well be speaking a foreign language,” Schindler said. He started attending tech networking events to hone his skills. Often though he had to travel several hours for sizable events.
Like Ann Arbor, for instance. “People just started talking to me; I felt like I was part of the tech community there,” said Schindler. However, he began to wonder why a similar event did not exist closer to home.
“There wasn’t this common meeting place where everyone can get together like they were doing in Ann Arbor,” Schindler noted. So he began to ask around Traverse City to gauge interest in a tech-centric event.
“Every person I talked to was literally like, “Yes! How can I help,” Schindler said. After collecting a few like-minded individuals, including Lisa Baker at Access Point and Enrico Schaefer at Traverse Legal, Schindler held the first TC New Tech event this past June.
The event was a success, and since then an increasing number of presenters, investors and organizations have taken notice. Schindler explained several relationships formed during subsequent events have proven to be very beneficial to presenters. (Though he was unwilling to discuss specific individuals or companies while their initial negotiations are ongoing.)
“I love it because the people come from so many backgrounds ,” said Baker. Access Point is a human resources management and services firm that deals with numerous tech startups. “Some people are working day jobs, and then at night they’ve got this project that they’ve been working on in their basement for two years.”
Baker feels the ubiquity of technological successes and frustrations is part of what continues to make the event successful.
“Almost anyone can relate to something that’s technology based,” she said. “Whether it’s something that’s driving them crazy in their workplace – and they’re introduced to a technological solution – or a business opportunity kind of clicks, where there’s some innovation and a real world problem and the two come together and their whole life takes a 90-degree turn.”
TC tech hot spot?
As the rise of technology in every facet of life is leading to an expanding tech industry across the country, many are beginning to look at growth potential in Traverse City and wonder if it could be the next tech hot spot.
Schindler and others see Traverse City as a prime location for the tech industry to expand.
“The tech sector is going to grow, it’s just a matter of where it’s going to grow,” said Schindler. He explained the decentralized nature of the industry could allow it to exist almost anywhere, if the environment is right. Schindler said advances in technological hardware, like 3D printers, will mean even more flexibility for companies potentially looking to set up shop in Traverse City.
Despite the energy building around the TC tech sector, progress will not be without obstacles.
Some, like Aaron Carpenter founder of Legendary Lion Web Design, see Traverse City’s demographic as a barrier to an expanding local tech industry.
“Living in a market where most people are older, who really haven’t grown up with the technology or know what it can do or be useful for, is kind of a dampener for the tech industry to grow,” said Carpenter. He said the demand in the immediate area is not enough to support growing businesses. Much of this, he felt, stems from a lack of tech knowledge.
“The biggest, most commonly brought up issue is the daily requirement to speak at about a third grade level,” said Carpenter. “Because you need to convey everything about how things work and what they do to your client, but nine times out of ten your client has absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
Joel Mueller, local founder of the successful startup Macupdate.com, espoused similar concerns about outdated mindsets regarding the tech field. Mueller, who identifies as an entrepreneur stuck between generations, said the old, big business model will need to give way to smaller more adaptable organizations. He also indicated a large number of enterprising individual tech experts is not enough; they will have to eventually coalesce if they want to create a noticeable impact on the local tech sector.
“The more ways that we can attract and retain talent that results in employment in small companies that are sustainable and/or growing, that’s really the next step,” said Meuller. “That’s what we need to build to.”
Additionally, he identified a “siloed” mentality (where individuals or groups remain isolated from one another) as another obstacle to expanding the tech industry.
“The pitch night is a really good step,” said Meuller. “I think that gives people an opportunity to plug in with each other and to help each other out more and be more aware of what’s happening.”
Schindler also remains optimistic that the market in Traverse City will continue to grow as experts meet, collaborate and connect, and more and more people are exposed to the upside of upgrading their understanding of what tech can do.
“You start to really realize the potential in everything,” said Schindler. “It just opens your mind to the possibilities of how you could use technology in areas that most people never think you could.”
The next TC New Tech meeting will be hosted Nov. 3 at the CenterPointe Building off of S. West Bay Shore Drive in Greilickville. Registration information and videos of past presenters are available at tcnewtech.org.
TC Tech Industry Unite!
For those who need their tech fix more than once a month, there are a growing number of groups that meet to discuss all thing tech. Here are a few:
Though the event originated in Nashville, Traverse City has been hosting their own monthly Geek Breakfast since 2011. Attendees meet at 7:45 am at Bubba’s Restaurant and Bar on the third or fourth Thursday of each month, and “congregate over bacon, eggs and plenty of coffee to discuss topics like social media, digital marketing, design, programming, and ways to better their communities.”
“We usually have a pretty good mix of people really from all different types of backgrounds but people who have a similar interest in technology,” said Erin Monigold, who helped found the local group. “It’s a really nice way to start the day.”
More information can be found at Facebook.com/TCGeekBreakfast
TC Build Guild
This software developer-centric group meets once a month to “grab a beer and hang out at The Workshop [Brewing Company] to talk about what’s been going on in the past month in your world,” said co-founder Aaron Carpenter. He explained developers of all walks come to collaborate and discuss specific projects or problems in a no-pressure setting. “We’re just spitballing back and forth, and were working; but it’s not really work,” said Carpenter.
TC Build Guild’s next meeting is November 5. For more information visit their Meet Up page at meetup.com/Build-Guild-Traverse-City
IT Happy Hour
This three year-old group connects local tech professionals once a quarter from 5-7 pm at local bars, breweries and restaurants. Shannon Wilcox, event co-founder, said 30 to 70 industry experts usually attend, though their entire list includes well over 200 people. Employees from NMC, Hagerty and other large organizations are frequent attendees. “There’s a lot more individuals working in tech in Traverse City than I think most people realize,”Wilcox said. The group stays connected via email. The next IT Happy Hour will be held this January. Interested individuals can learn more at safetynet-inc.com.