Technology professionals and advocates from across Michigan and beyond will descend on Detroit’s Eastern Market next week for the third annual FutureMidwest conference, a much buzzed-about event that aims to put the region on the map of entrepreneurial hot-spots.
In addition to its unconventional new venue, this year’s two-day conference will also feature a contest to award $100,000 to the most promising startup business.
A Healthier Michigan: How would you explain the bottom-line theme of FutureMidwest?
Pittman: FutureMidwest is a digital business conference that focuses on the impact of technology in five areas:
- Integrated marketing: How to integrate digital platforms into a well-rounded marketing mix
- User experience: How to create an engaging experience across a variety of digital media
- Mobile: How it’s impacting information exchange and user access and how to utilize it
- Business Intelligence/Analytics: How to define metrics that matter most and apply them
- Regional growth: How the Midwest is participating in the information age
What kind of person is the conference geared toward? Who would find this stuff interesting or beneficial?
The conference is designed for executive management and decision-makers from corporate, small and mid-sized businesses, entrepreneurs, brand managers, marketing and communication professionals and students. Really, any contemporary person who desires to find new and effective uses for digital tools to communicate with their audience, convert prospects or manage their business.
This is the third year of the conference. How has it grown?
Initially, it was simply a conversation between a small group of clients and organizations we were working with at the time. As more people have started following what we’re doing, we’re finding ourselves in conversations with bigger and bigger organizations. They’re listening to what we’re teaching and responding favorably.
As more people share with us what occupies their attention, we take note of the trends and incorporate those insights into our program focus each year.
For instance, this year we have more content on integrated marketing, mobile platforms and net privacy, where last year it was more about the social Web and digital branding. It’s apparently working because we had a 300-percent growth in participation and attendance this past year and this year we are experiencing a marked increase in the response and participation from people and organizations outside of the region.
It just confirms that the focus of a Midwestern professional isn’t any different than a professional anywhere else in the country. And that’s important, because we ultimately see our content as being staged locally, but relevant globally.
Isn’t the Midwest kind of a technological backwater compared to Silicon Valley or the East and West coasts?
There’s that perception. But I would argue that people don’t see the East or West coasts as technologically advanced as a whole, so much as they see specific locations like San Francisco, Palo Alto and New York. It’s impossible to stamp a whole region with a single professional identity. It ultimately falls to the efforts of a few active areas within the larger conglomerate to set the tone. The Midwest is currently developing its voice.
As residents, we’re doing our part to encourage growth in places like Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Toledo, Ohio. From small beginnings and hard work come great achievements. The important thing to remember is that the Midwest is not the East or West coast. It will need to find its own unique path to success.
How will you be incorporating social media?
Social media is a tool, like PR or television advertising are tools. No tool is a strategy by itself. A hammer is great, but you can’t build a house with just a hammer. We’re interested in discussing topics like social media in context — that is to say, as a part of a healthy marketing mix. It’s about best practices and a holistic view of marketing and business development.
You’re also featuring a startup business competition of sorts. Can you tell us about that?
Funded by Night acknowledges the fact that this region (particularly Detroit) is home to many startups. Many of these companies are bootstrapped, seeking funding and often have to go to other cities for a real shot at investment. It’s the first step in the direction of encouraging a larger amount of local investment in local companies. We hope more events like this follow.
Conference co-founder, Jordan Wolfe, has assembled two locally focused venture capital companies, Ludlow Ventures and Detroit Venture Partners, and gathered 25 of the region’s most interesting investment prospects into a single day of presentations. That evening the grand prize of a $100,000 convertible note is presented to the winning organization.
Can you talk about how you’re using Eastern Market this year as a venue and how that came to be? Most people — myself included — associate the market with Flower Day or buying apples from farmers.
Yes, I did too. But we’ve always sought out unconventional locations for the conference. This year we gain the benefit of significantly more space than we had last year. We have close to 50,000 square feet at our disposal.
This year, we’re spreading out and inviting more people in. We have an internal program called “the Attendee Experience.” Where attendees will find a wealth of new and interesting information on digital best practices onstage, offstage they will learn about the companies and organizations that make this region active.
Our stage this year benefits from the truly breathtaking architecture of the remodeled Shed 3: Quicken Loans Pavilion. I think people will really be impressed by the sheer scale of it. And Shed 5: Facility Matrix Group Pavilion will offer a host of engaging interactive experiences, including a popup store of local artisans, mobile app lounge, chauffeured tours of the Eastern Market campus and Detroit, test drives in the new Buick Regal Turbo and interactive exhibitions from brands like Verizon, ePrize, MIST Innovations and Logic Solutions. It should prove to be a great experience for attendees.
Photo Credit: Noah Stephens, The People of Detroit