Chicago Tech Week: Reflections on the Future

Chicago Detours approaches the city not just as a history museum, but as a living organism to be experienced in the present, and the future, too.  The city is abuzz with talk of Chicago as a hot place for technology start-ups. Mayor Emmanuel announced the “Apps for Metro Chicago” competition a month ago, and obviously Groupon has put us on the map in a big way. And this past weekend’s arrival of Chicago Tech Week, a conference held in the Merchandise Mart and put on by midVENTURES, a tech-centered organization for entrepreneurial talent, is a true indicator of the potential Chicago has in this industry.

Chicago Tech Community

Having lived in San Francisco for 6 years, I just figured the tech community here was rather small, since I don’t see much of it, and was surprised by the turnout for Tech Week. Apparently 1,500 showed up on the first day, so many more than predicted that they had to hand-write badges. And why is a founder of a tour company going to Tech Week? Two reasons: 1. At Chicago Detours we are very curious about the realm of mobile apps and 2. I looked at the incredible list of speakers and topics, and saw that they would be relevant to just about any business owner.

Of course, we aren’t any Silicon Valley yet (and we know our area of the Midwest has no valleys), but one thing that struck me was how strong the presence of Chicago was here. Jeff Carter of Hyde Park Angels wrote how when their organization started in 2007, it was an “entrepreneurial desert.” Today we’ve got an impressive combo of incubators like Excelerate Labs and Sandbox; successful start-ups like Fee Fighters and GiveForward; and awesome web development firms like Doejo or Studio of the Month.

Hell no, I wouldn’t ever compare Chicago to Silicon Valley. Chicago is Chicago, and while there’s plenty of potential for investment here I’m certain that we’ll retain a down-to-earth character. I doubt Chicago investors will consider some of the “out there” ideas that emerge in the Valley, which are sometimes the next Facebook, other times the next Kozmo.com. Is that fair to say that Chicago might be more conservative there? And our city has the benefit of diversified industries, many that will be clamoring for guidance with internet and mobile technologies.

What We Saw at Chicago Tech Week

As would be expected, the conference was dominated by men. Entrepreneur Penelope Trunk, who I am now a super fan of (and I’m not a fan of anyone!), suggested that women entrepreneurs are – to soften the language – “screwed.” No filter was applied to her subsequent comment about getting one of the guys at Tech Week since they make a lot of money, reel them in, and then get them to fund your business. Damn – where was she a year ago before I started my business? I’ve got a boyfriend with no money and a business that keeps me too busy to properly seek funding!

The social dynamic was interesting, too. After all, these things are full of stimulation and new ideas and new people. But before the presentations everyone was just plugging away on their devices. So I didn’t really meet too many people.

Tech Week Tidbits

Art on Walls at Techweek

It might be a good idea to hold off on getting a mobile site since those might die out. There’s a cool new app for finding your favorite dishes – it’s called Food Genius. Viral marketing can sometimes amount to nothing. The Merchandise Mart has micro-climates. Angel investors and VCs are incredibly patient when listening to all our pitches (both good and bad). Games pervade just about everything we do (including weight loss, Facebook, etc; humans love competition!)

A primary theme at the conference: the more we isolate each other via these new technologies, the more we want them to bring us together. Take Forecast – it helps you track where your friends are meeting up later in the day so that serendipity can happen with a little nudge.

We’re trying to wrap our minds around the potential for user-based apps in the travel sphere, but for now we are going about the ultimate disruption: group tours of Chicago where cool people actually come together with a fun and smart tour guide to explore stories and spots locals don’t even know, and interact with images and videos on shared iPads. Yes, we have iPads, but we have actual human beings, too. Our style of tourism is in part a reaction to the obsession with independent travel, gadgets, and an over-saturation of travel information. We’re going to stick to real human beings for now.

— Amanda Scotese, Founder and Director

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
Robert
GetYourGuide

Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
Heather
TripAdvisor

Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
Lorit
TripAdvisor

Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K
TripAdvisor

Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K
Yelp

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F
Yelp

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