IVCA Q&A: Geoff Domoracki, Jon Pasky on TechWeek

IVCA Q&A: Geoff Domoracki, Jon Pasky on TechWeek

August 3, 2011

CHICAGO - “The first ever TechWeek founded by Geoff Domoracki and Jon Pasky was held last week (July 22-29). The event attracted over 2,000 entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators for 4 days of conferences, exhibitions, speakers and tech start-up com-petitions. Anchoring those competitions was the midVenturesLAUNCH event, where several new companies were given a chance to pitch their product or service for cash prizes from the sponsors.

The elated team of Domoracki and Pasky took time out early this week to talk to the IVCA about the amazing TechWeek event, and their own personal highlights.

IVCA: What was the theme or trend going into TechWeek Conference & Expo and was it followed through on during the event?

Geoff Domoracki: The thing we tried to emphasize for TechWeek 2011 was connectivity: more and more ways to connect the end user with the people, places and things around them. For example, our mobile applications let participants check-in to sessions, speakers and different events around the city, and the conference badge actually had a QR code to connect attendees and allow follow up. Between our Twitter and Facebook feeds we always had a way to connect to the event in real time. And besides that, a lot of the companies that were exhibiting and doing demos were using social applications or online productivity applications like Meebo, and PBworks, which all focus on user connectivity.

IVCA: Which event, workshop or talk elicited the most interest during the week? Why do you think that particular happening got so much buzz?

Jon Pasky: Having Governor Pat Quinn (Illinois) there definitely elicited a lot of buzz. It was new, it wasn't planned, and it was timely. It covered the signing of two technology bills that directly pertained to the audience we had there. Chicago's start-up and technology scene is relatively new, and while investments in technology have been going on for many years, they haven't really coalesced around the entire ecosystem.

And I think TechWeek really highlighted the engagement in technology bringing out people who have been in this scene who can see that now there are many more people in the ecosystem investing in technology or working at a tech company, and that the government is starting to take note. I know that has been a theme for years, getting support from the government and the local civic leaders, having the governor there was at least a token emphasis on technology, and helped to encourage conversations around technology.

IVCA: Tell us about TechWeek.

Pasky: A lot of people thought we had been doing it for a longer time, given what we pulled off. This was the second round of midVenturesLAUNCH, a start-up competition we started last year, with competition and conferences around the event. Based on our midVenturesLAUNCH , a year ago, I could tell you all the different start-ups that were in Chicago. This year I had start-ups coming to me of which I'd never heard. That just tells you the breadth of the ecosystem now and the ability that the system has to amplify technology in Chicago.

IVCA: What is it about where we're at with social media in 2011 that signaled to you that this was the year at TechWeek where social media will play a huge role? Were your site and tool suggestions utilized? Which site, by your observations, generated the most use?

Domoracki: I think that our community of web entrepreneurs, designers and programmers almost expect it. They live in a world where their start-up home pages have tweet feeds, where everyone posts what they're doing tonight on Plancast and if you want to do a meet-up with your startup group you're going to check-in on Foursquare. Thirty percent of participants and speakers this year are from San Francisco, where many of these start-ups are based. Our community did a lot of the work for us, recommending community-driven applications. They are the ones that have pushed us on to get the best tools for the conference.

IVCA: One of the big parts of the event is midVenturesLAUNCH, a start-up competition. What were the highlights from that competition, who won and what was it about the winner's pitch that got them the victory?

Pasky: First I'll tell you who won...BabbaCo, run by a woman named Jessica Kim. They are a company participating in Excelerate Labs this year, which they're currently going through. Second was Chute, a company based partially in Chicago and partially in San Francisco. Those were the big winners. The People's Choice Award, which came out of our demo area - “ that was 20 companies that were just on tables and not in the main com-petition - “ the winner was Dabble, also a Chicago company. We saw big wins from Chicago, and we were really impressed with the top five companies that the judges picked to present. They had really tight presentations and it was a tough decision.

Domoracki: The three criteria the judges were looking at to evaluate the start-ups, began with first, was it the - ˜big idea' that might be an industry leader and captivate a potential audience? Secondly, does it have feasibility from an investor's perspective, how much traction does it have? And finally, communication and presentation was the third criteria, which included how well they answered the Q&A.

IVCA: From midVentures perspective, what is the status of Chicago's reputation as a go-to place for both tech companies and innovative ideas?

Domoracki: The world sees Chicago as a place where real businesses get started. You look at Groupon, which was cash flow positive in month three. Look at where Lightbank is investing, in start-ups that have real business models. Also our educational institutions, Booth School of Business [University of Chicago] or Kellogg School of Management [Northwestern], both of these schools are teaching the disciplines of building a real business. Chicago is producing companies that produce real revenue, real jobs and a real positive net impact on their communities, and much faster than a lot of other tech hubs.

IVCA: What type of tech ideas generate the most investment interest these days - “ a wholly original concept or a fix or product associated with what already exists, and why?

Domoracki: The most tech investment goes to someone who is in the position to be a - ˜category killer,' businesses that dominate their categories like Groupon, Facebook and Twitter. These represent new ideas that become the forefront of their industries. More interestingly, because there are so many applications and start-ups that rely on technology infrastructure, there is a lot of money going into online infrastructure, like Heroku and Splunk. One of our conversations at the Data 2.0 Conference [in April] was about this infrastructure of the internet that enabled all this innovation to happen. The consistent and long term bets, would probably be online infrastructure, which enables everything else to happen.

IVCA: Finally, what was the personal highlight of the week? What did you most enjoy?

Domoracki: Personally, one of my favorite companies is RadiumOne, and the CEO Gurbaksh Chahal came to speak. I'm a data nerd, so I found his start-up and his speech very interesting because he is 28 years old, and has already built and sold two ad net-works, and he's raised $200 million for his current project. It's very unique because it's an ad network that figures out which ads to show you, based both on what friends you're connected with and what you share with them. That is what Facebook does now, but this does it for the entire internet. It's a new start-up, not many people have heard of it yet, but I think it's going to be a billion dollar company in the next few years. I'm happy he flew in to speak.

Pasky: Again bringing the governor in and have him see TechWeek really brought a different perspective. In technology business, we're typically not connected to the government sector. When we did the Data 2.0 Conferences in San Francisco in April we did see we have the pull, because data is part of what the federal government is focusing on. Having the governor there meant that we were able to showcase not only private technology, but a way that the government, civic and political leaders can actually focus on technology for everyone. Dates for the Second Annual Chicago TechWeek Conference & Expo will be announced soon. For a TechWeek summary, click here.