Even the bankers – well, most of them – didn’t wear ties in this gathering of T-shirts.
Tuesday’s ICT Unconference at the Wichita Marriott had a different vibe as a get-together for tech entrepreneurs, wannabe tech entrepreneurs and the many in Wichita who want to help them.
Wichita is still a newbie to tech, so much of the discussion among the 240 participants centered on how the community can foster those start-ups. The pieces are there, they said, and the institutions, money and talent already exist, but they’re not quite assembled into a seamless ecosystem, yet.
Those who have been around the block said that Wichita feels different now.
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It’s only now that some guy who even well-connected people hadn’t heard of could stand up – as he did at the conference – and announce that he was part of a loosely organized community of local software developers who were looking for members and projects.
Seth Etter is that guy, and he’s part of an informal network of programmers called devICT. He just wants to get the word out that they exist, have weekly get-togethers at 7 a.m. on Thursdays at the Labor Party in Old Town, and are looking to build numbers.
Veteran website developer and consultant Jason Vandecreek said Wichita has changed in the past two years.
“It’s not about money,” he said. “It’s not about technology. It’s more about culture, a really thriving culture.”
Vandecreek said the right culture has evolved. It exists now in a small but increasingly influential group. This is the year, he said, where this culture expands to become self-sustaining.
“Wichita has hit critical mass,” he said. “Now it’s just building awareness.”
Yet, it will take some work. The word heard over and over again was “silo” because, attendees said, Wichita already has many organizations to help entrepreneurs, even tech entrepreneurs, but those entrepreneurs don’t always know how to find them.
A tech start-up incubator is a traditional one-stop solution to a fragmented support system, and one that works in many cities. An incubator is typically thought of as an office where tech start-ups can rent space and, often, get mentoring, networking and financing.
But in one discussion, there was a lot of doubt about whether Wichita could sustain one. They’re expensive and almost never make money, meaning the community somehow has to support it. Maybe, some suggested, it would be more of a series of events rather than a location.
“There is a soft takeaway that we need to build awareness about all of these resources,” sadi Steve Radley, president of NetWork Kansas.
Some of that is being pulled together on the www.startupwichita.com and ICTUnconference.com websites.
But the conference is a good first step, as it was intended to be, said ICT Unconference organizer Bob Loudermilk, who has been trying to organize an event for entrepreneurs in Wichita for several years.
He was glowing Tuesday.
“There’s been lots of energy, tons of connections, tons of resources,” he said. “This was a big day for me.”