October 21st, 2022

Top 4 Takeaways from Tech Week Grand Rapids & Michigan Tech Week

What better way to share our story, attract new founders to our region, and also show off the spectacular companies that are already located here, than launching the first ever Tech Week Grand Rapids and Michigan Tech Week?

Information TechnologyTechnology Council of West MichiganWest MichiganGreater Grand Rapids

Written by Jen Wangler, Vice President of Technology

I recently traveled to Pittsburgh to attend the annual summer conference for TECNA, a group that represents approximately 60 technology trade organizations that, in turn, represent more than 22,000 technology-related companies in North America. This conference was a three-day event focused on sharing best practices and strategies to help tech leaders how to grow their communities and tech councils around the US.

As I sat in the opening session and listened to the panelists share their experiences with various communities around the country it dawned on me, our region has a story to tell, and we need to do a better job of sharing it.

There are many considerations when deciding where to locate your tech company - proximity to talent, desirable amenities for employees, customer base, community networking opportunities, and so much more. Michigan (and Greater Grand Rapids in particular) has an abundance of resources for these growing companies.

What better way to share our story, attract new founders to our region, and also show off the spectacular companies that are already located here, than launching the first ever Tech Week Grand Rapids and Michigan Tech Week?

Tech Week Grand Rapids

With only six weeks of prep, The Right Place connected with several community partners to launch the first ever Tech Week Grand Rapids. It was a multi-day event designed to showcase the vibrant tech community in West Michigan. With events ranging from hands-on tech exhibits and emerging tech panel discussions, to pitch competitions and networking opportunities, there was something for everyone.

Michigan Tech Week

On the heels of Grand Rapids’ inaugural tech week, the first Michigan Tech Week also launched at Detroit’s Gem Theater. The event was filled with two days of programming. There were talks on the future of work, and how to build successful businesses, as well as networking happy hours and brunches. Just another opportunity to celebrate Michigan’s thriving tech ecosystem!

While I wasn’t able to go to Michigan Tech Week, my coworkers were lucky enough to attend and report back their findings. Below are some key takeaways learned at both Tech Week Grand Rapids and Michigan Tech Week that I’d love to share with you.

Top 4 Takeaways from Tech Week Grand Rapids & Michigan Tech Week

1. Michigan has a vibrant founder community

    Katie Hall, Founder and CEO of Grand Rapids company, Claira, was a panelist on day two at Michigan Tech Week in Detroit. Hall is one shining example of all the reasons why so many choose to create their homebase and plant their roots in Michigan. “I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life with brief stints in Europe, DC and Boston,” said Hall. “My family is here, and I love this State.”

    Hall spent 10 years in workforce development in Michigan and watched the economic decline and rebound of Detroit. She had friends who left automotive and other industries and move to other states.

    “I wanted Michigan to be an example of what the future of work could look like,” she said. “I thought that if I based the company here - the State can set the standard for what innovative workforce management should be.”

    2. Grand Rapids’ secret sauce: A community that cares about each other’s success

      During my time at various Tech Week Grand Rapids’ events, it was apparent to me that Grand Rapids has an inclusive and collaborative digital technology community. Our organizations care about the success of one another and are always willing to help.

      A glaring example of this at play is The Technology Council of West Michigan. The Council was launched in 2016 to help companies in our region that are providing, applying, or starting to adopt digital technology.

      Aside from groups like our Tech Council, events such as the Hi-Tech Brunch and Tech Talks Happy Hour at Tech Week Grand Rapids, as well as the Opening Happy Hour and Black Founders Brunch hosted by Michigan Tech Week, proved to be an opportunity to connect our communities. These events allowed a safe space for leaders to come together and share best practices around founding and operating a technology company in 2022.

      3. Grand Rapids is positioned to become the leading technology cluster in the Midwest

        Over the last year The Right Place, in partnership with 100+ community and business leaders, gathered to craft a strategy around envisioning Grand Rapids as the next tech hub of the Midwest, and in early September, we were able to release a ten-year strategy. The goal is to grow the tech sector to 10% of regional employment. This vision calls for 20K new tech jobs over the next 10 years.

        Communities all over the country are positioning themselves to be centers of innovation. However, with this strategy in play, Grand Rapids will have the competitive edge to draw more people to the Mitten state. In fact, earlier this year, Yahoo Finance ranked the City of Grand Rapids one of the top four cities to launch a technology career.

        The excitement and buzz around the release of this strategy was evident during the many different Tech Week Grand Rapids events. The community is on board, and we’re determined to turn this plan into a reality.

        4. Weak ties = innovation & collaboration

          When you think of weak ties, you might not believe that it leads to innovation or collaboration, but studies show otherwise. Weak tie theory was first written by Mark Granovetter in a 1973 article called "The Strength of Weak Ties." Essentially this theory states that if you only collaborate with a few “strong ties” you’re confining your network and have less opportunities for growth. When meeting many new people, you create “weak ties” and this can lead to greater discussions, new ideas, and a stronger sense of community.

          In Greater Grand Rapids, and Michigan as a whole, we have the opportunity to intentionally cultivate our tech ecosystem by offering spaces to bring people together, amplifying our culture of cooperation and proving that we are a community that cares.

          Planning Ahead

          While much was learned at these inaugural events, I cannot wait to jump into new topics to help plan next year’s Tech Week Grand Rapids and attend Michigan Tech Week myself. If you participated in either of these events, I would love to hear your thoughts on how they went. Feel free to reach out to me with helpful insights or ideas on programming.

          Also, are you growing your technology product or service in West Michigan and looking for local partners? Or do you just want to grow your network? Setup a one-on-one with me and I’d be happy to help make some connections! For more information, email me at wanglerj@rightplace.org.

          About the Author

          Jen-Wangler-Headshot

          Jennifer Wangler

          Vice President, Technology

          Jennifer provides retention and expansion assistance to Right Place clients in Kent County and site location assistance to national and international IT and tech companies. She also serves as the Director for the Technology Council of West Michigan.

          Full Bio