I have the honor of reflecting on the incredible community building and engagement I witnessed on Friday at Flight. As I attempt to put into words the excitement our startup community feels at this time, know that nothing can really compare to being there. But I’ll do my very best!
Walking into the John S. Knight Center yesterday was like walking through an electric field. You could feel the energy and enthusiasm from the crowd. 200+ participants, 35 speakers, 42 exhibitors, 24 sponsors and over 50 promotional partners were there supporting. Walk 10 feet and you could easily run into a startup founder or employee, investor, marketing or engineering service provider, business accelerator, IP attorney, or a student. The diversity in the crowd was incredible.
Exhibitor booths were not your standard “grab a pen and a piece of chocolate and move on” type of exhibitors. There was anything from tiny arcades to 3D printers, radial engines and full-size hydrogen-powered golf carts. On the service-side, you could find business accelerators, entrepreneur support organizations, funders, marketing firms, engineering firms, lawyers, and many more – all setup side-by-side. The exhibit hall was a snapshot of all the resources our regions has to offer: a one-stop-entrepreneur-shop. At any point throughout the day you could swing by and see groups in deep conversation, even if the exhibit hall wasn’t open. A testament to the interest to learn about what our startup scene has to offer. I’ll even let you in on a secret: Launch League instructed its Board Members to help encourage networking or make introductions if somebody was alone. Lucky for them, they didn’t have much of a job to do. I think my hardest job of the day was breaking up conversations to get attendees to stop networking and move-on to the next session.
Coming from an engineering background, I know the typical “feel” of a tech conference. Coffee-fueled days filled with forced networking sessions and breakouts that typically give you a great opportunity to check your email, at best. This conference was the exception to that stereotype. The breakout sessions were engaging with ongoing dialogue and audience participation throughout many of the talks. Did you ever think you’d see a session on financial management standing-room-only? At Flight you will!
Many attendees said that this is the highest quality content they have seen at a conference. And it’s no surprise, seeing that speakers and panelists included representatives from across the region, from Cleveland to Columbus. NASA, Jumpstart, Google, the North Coast Angel Fund, The University of Akron, and Redhat were in the mix, just to name a few.
The perspectives and depth from our keynote speakers had the audience captivated. Both successful product entrepreneur, Blake Squires and founder of the Devil Strip, Chris Horne provided “quotable” moments that were captured in a flurry on our Twitter feed. And these were no “entrepreneurship is glamorous” type of talks. They covered real stories of what it takes to start something here in the region – truly valuable and inspiration for our audience.
Last but not least, the opportunity to continue networking at the gorgeous Akron Art Museum not only highlighted one of Akron’s finest facilities, but also gave the crowd (predominantly startup founders at this point) the chance to kick back and have fun. Going back to my tech-conference comparisons, I can honestly say I have never seen a group of conference attendees out on the dance floor at a predominantly tech-focused networking event. As I observed in amusement as some of our speakers and top startup founders danced their hearts out, I realized that we are truly building something great. A community that will hopefully grow roots in our region; lasting relationships that will turn into collaboration, sharing of resources, and peer-mentoring.
If you want to know what happened at Flight in simple terms, I could probably summarize it by just using verbs, like: learning, sharing, giving, collaborating, mentoring, partnering, networking, and teaching, just to name a few. This is what Launch League’s mission is all about. We want to motivate entrepreneurs to take action; to be a connector and a facilitator of progress. We want to encourage engagement & collaboration. We do this by knitting together the fabric of our local entrepreneur ecosystem and connect people and organizations.
It Takes a Village – Komae, Akron-based startup and Launch League Members
People might wonder how a team of 3 (assisted by some other really passionate volunteers) could plan a conference of this scale in less than 6 months. I believe it’s because everybody in our ecosystem sees the potential we have. Accomplishing something isn’t so hard if your team is supported by over 50 partners and 24 sponsors tied together with a common belief and goal.
In closing, I’ll get a little personal. As an organizer, it’s easy to get caught-up in spreadsheets, emails, contracts, budgets, and deadlines. But for me, it didn’t feel like work. I love the mission of Flight, and Launch League in general. I believe in what we’re building here in Akron. But much more than that, I love the people that I get to support as a result of this work. Having driven across the state the past number of months to listen to feedback and raise awareness for this event, I see the excitement people have for what we’ve started. The most rewarding part of this adventure for me is seeing the spark in our entrepreneurs. To see people get excited and inspired to start a company here in NE Ohio, and to have them feel like they belong to a community of founders and organizations that are here to support them.
So, from your Flight Director, thank you to everybody who has contributed to this inaugural event. We can’t to see what happens next year!