Tech Month Chicago is not your average litany of business events led by standard talking heads, but an experiential platform to create an entire month of events all around the city of Chicago to celebrate all things tech and science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) related that anyone could get involved in to attend or have their own event. I got in touch with some of the people behind this new concept to get the inside scoop. Tech Month Chicago‘s co-founder and President Melanie Adcock provided insight on how this project – whick kicks-off June 1 – came about.
How long – from thought to manifestation – did it take for Tech Month Chicago to be born?
Melanie Adcock: I never felt there was enough diversity throughout my ten-year career in technology in Chicago. I didn’t fit into what I felt was an environment that excluded people. It seemed like if you didn’t fit into the clique in Chicago, that you didn’t belong in tech at all. I wanted to change that. I first witnessed issues of lack of inclusion within the tech sector because I was too often the only woman on my team in tech jobs I had. Of course we’ve come a long way since then and things are improving now because the topic of inclusion in tech is under a national microscope.
I’ve always been sensitive to being excluded along with a strong connection to civic outreach. The idea to do Tech Month Chicago was inspired by those feelings and was initially developed in 2014. It wasn’t until 2015 that we got the URL for our site and started holding weekly planning meetings to get the project started. Our first annual Tech Month Chicago launches in June 2016.
What other institutions inspire you and Tech Month Chicago’s mission?
Melanie Adcock: In 2004, I curated a fashion show at the Chicago Cultural Center and participated in Chicago Artists Month run by the Department of Cultural Affairs. I got to see behind the scenes how the arts events operate. It really inspired me because of how aware and inclusive the organizers were. I’ve always retained that experience in the back of my mind.
What is the purpose of Tech Month Chicago, and how are its principles different from events like Techweek?
Melanie Adcock: Essentially, Techweek is an expo that takes place downtown in the Merchandise Mart primarily geared toward entrepreneurs and those already in the tech industry. While this type of event is necessary and helpful to those already working in the industry, they don’t focus exclusively on those outside of the tech industry such as families, kids, minority populations, underserved neighborhoods, the economically challenged, or those who just want to appreciate technology. Tech Month Chicago intends to address the rest of the city in the spirit of awareness, advocacy, outreach, and consideration of the diversity of Chicago’s many groups of people.
Tech Month Chicago will do that by promoting a calendar of events for the month of June that take place all over the city in different neighborhoods at different times. We will target diverse populations within Chicago including people who can’t afford to go downtown to the Merchandise Mart. Instead, Tech Month Chicago can take place in their own neighborhoods to help teach job skills, and enable those who may feel disconnected from the downtown locations to feel like they, too, can be a part of the local tech industry.
Our purpose is to foster long-term economic development and bridge the gap between what is seen as the tech industry and the rest of the culture. We feel that technology should be part of our local culture.
Anyone can participate in Tech Month Chicago including the existing grassroots meetups and events that take place for technology education and community throughout the city. In addition to their regular programming, we encourage them to invite newcomers and help answer any questions they might have.
We hope that our efforts will amplify what Techweek and events similar to them are doing. We respect Techweek, we have spoken with the two most recent CEOs, and we plan to list the portions of their expo that are open to the public on our calendar so we can help promote them as well. At Tech Month Chicago we seek to work with everyone, and don’t want to exclude any group or person. As we grow we will find more and more ways to work with groups and organizations both within and outside of the tech industry to present a united front of civic outreach for all of Chicago.
Our partner, Blue1647, has taught us a lot about how to accomplish our goals. They are truly doing the work of bringing diverse populations into technology, and we are proud to work with them.
Additionally, we aim to help Chicago residents of Bronzeville, Englewood, the south side, west side – and all neighborhoods– who have aspirations of learning technology and business concepts. At Tech Month Chicago we encourage people to be all they hope they can be. We want to know how else can we make a difference in sharing expertise in real-time during events. Tech Month Chicago is for everyone. Bottom line: we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.
How frequently will Tech Month Chicago be held?
Melanie Adcock: Annually. In the short time since we’ve started, it’s already starting to catch on with over 20 events listed on our calendar with more and more people listing their events on our calendar every day. So far those who have been the most receptive are fellow non-profits and the disenfranchised. What sets us apart from other events – aside from our longer timetable, obviously – is that we focus on a much bigger, broader audience outside of the tech industry.
Who else has made Tech Month Chicago possible?
Melanie Adcock: We have so many great partners: Don Schnitzius set up and maintains our website. i.c. Stars does a lot of outreach to communities, and they helped us design our website. The Tech Month Chicago Co-Founders, Todor Krecu and Dana Todd, are tireless advocates for local community tech events. Last, but not least, Blue1647. Emile Cambry – the Founder of Blue1647 has been a great inspiration to us and everyone at Blue has been very encouraging. Blue provides such an open and welcoming venue. They make you feel at home, never a feeling of being excluded.
A la Twitter – in 140 characters – what are the ultimate intentions of Tech Month Chicago for the Attendee? And for the Presenter?
Melanie Adcock: For attendees, it’s our hope they get excellent exposure to the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics related industries. For presenters, we’re glad to provide them access to a wider audience (the whole city of Chicago) to encourage sharing the best of their expertise.
For more information on Tech Month Chicago, schedules of presentations, or to submit an event, visit www.techmonthchicago.com