Battleship Chicago Event: Chicago Tech & PR Pros

TechNexus, startups, chicago pr firms

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By:Jack Meehan

It’s no surprise that Chicago is quickly becoming a hot bed for technology startups. Earlier this week, Built in Chicago wrote an article tapping Chicago as one of the best startup ecosystems in the world. Incubators are popping up faster than a corner Starbucks, and The Loop is beginning to look like the Silicon Valley of the Midwest.

With the tremendous evolution of emerging technologies here in Chicago, this presents a remarkable area of growth for PR agencies in the Windy City.

TechNexus, a recent leader in the efforts to shape Chicago’s technology startup scene, is taking notice of Chicago’s transformation. Last week they hosted the first ever debate series, cleverly titled Battleship, which pitted venture capitalists against investors in hopes of educating a packed room on topics like bootstrapping, the values of having highly-skilled technical founders and even the pros and cons surrounding the use of bitcoin.

The event was split into three debate topics, each coincidentally identifying why finding a suitable PR agency should be the meeting you schedule once you’ve landed your ideal investor.

The first debate focused on a common argument amongst startup incubators, whether raising capital outweighs the long time method of bootstrapping. Jeff Carter, Co-Founder of Hyde Park Angels, arguing against bootstrapping squared off against Emile Cambry, Founder and CEO of BLUE1647. As a PR trendsetter reading this, you might think a topic like this isn’t useful in the communications realm. While I would have agreed with you before attending the event, Cambry made a point of connecting PR to startup hatching. “Always remember to relate to your customers, even when you’re dead set on landing that right investment. Never take time away from your audience.” Being in PR means understanding your audience whether it’s media or consumers, while always maintaining a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship. Who would have thought that the stages of preliminary startup investing would resonate with the everyday tasks of a publicist?

The second debate pitted Rick Zullo, vice president of LightBank, against Dan Parsons, co-founder and CEO of Dryv, to examine the strengths behind having a technical founder behind the wheel of your startup. While I’ll spare the technical back and forth, Parsons truly honed in on a great piece of advice. “No matter who is at the helm, your company is going to be the most successful via the passion of your employees, not necessarily the logistics behind how your executive team came to be.” Think about that for a second. Is your company successful solely from the work it puts out, or is it a combination of success, employee relationships and the involvement of your executives within the culture? Every office has its own unique and irreplaceable culture, there’s no refuting that, but what a startup mogul like Parsons points out is that, whether you’re in a corporate setting or a startup, it’s all about loving what you do that will produce the best results. It also doesn’t hurt to have a great boss either.

The final debate of Battleship proposed the question of whether bitcoin will serve as a sustainable currency. This hot topic in the tech world allowed Jonathan Solomon, executive director of Chicago’s Bitcoin Center to contest the thoughts of Imran Ahmad, principal from OCA Ventures. Coming from a person who has trouble finding his debit card every morning, the thought of virtual money becoming a sustainable currency made my ears perk up. Ahmad sparked the debate by asking the question, “how many people in this room use bitcoin?” and three lone onlookers raised their hand. As I gazed around the crowded room, I struggled to wrap my mind around the fact that only three people out of a crowd of at least 100 were the only ones using Bitcoin. We’re talking about Bitcoin here, one of the hottest pieces of coverage in the tech world. Then the thought dawned on me. With all the press that comes from Bitcoin and it’s innovation of the currency exchange system, it still hasn’t changed the perception of the consumer. Changing behaviors is a long-term process, regardless of the press you might receive toward your product or service. Business and PR agencies alike can take note of this when dealing with clients who might want to change the world with their product. Garnishing press and getting your product out there will put it in the spotlight, but don’t expect an article in TechCrunch to revolutionize your business plan and increase your ROI tenfold.

In 2015 it’s hard to find a business that can stand-alone and be successful without dabbling within the market of another industry. This is especially true for Chicago as we’re seeing the tech market explode here in the Windy City. What’s important to understand, is that in order to be successful in today’s market, no matter the market you’re in; you have to be open and adaptable to the thought process executives across the sea of high rises are making. You’ll be surprised at how fast the decision of a technology executive can impact your team, account or even your cubicle, no matter the industry you reside in.