Way back in 2010, Ben Blanquera, an executive-level tech evangelist and growth strategist specializing in innovation accelerators in the American Midwest, put out a call for help. Blanquera was seeking technologists in the Central Kentucky area to help establish the Lexington chapter of TechLife, an event organizer and meetup group for members of the tech industry who were based in Kentucky and surrounding areas. TechLife helped overcome geographic barriers that are typically faced by tech workers who live far from Silicon Valley. In a way, one might argue that TechLife was working towards amplifying voices and increasing networking opportunities for those outside of Silicon Valley long before the #Unvalley movement.
I volunteered to help as a founding member and Assistant Organizer… and TechLife Lexington was born.
TechLife Lexington’s goal was to create a meetup group that enabled techies from Lexington to have a “clearinghouse” for tech-related events, career information, and networking. We followed the vibrant and scalable model that Ben Blanquera was already using in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
TechLife was born in 2008, as a model for “building the tech and startup ecosystem” within midwestern American cities that were geographically located far from the coasts or the opportunities found within Silicon Valley. Within its first two years, TechLife Columbus had grown to 1,400+ members with 350+ events per year or roughly one event per day! Within 13 years, those numbers had grown to nearly 10,000 members, a newsletter with 5,000 subscribers, 50+ user groups, and nearly 6,000 events!
Ben shared with me that his ultimate vision was to help grow Lexington’s tech, entrepreneur, social media, and startup scene in ways that resembled the successes TechLife had seen in the neighboring state of Ohio.
As Assistant Organizer, I worked closely with Ben to help get TechLife Lexington off the ground. We created, managed, and moderated a Meetup group. We also organized the Lexington crowd of technologists by finding, posting, and sharing tech-related events.
I was joined by one other volunteer, Luke Murray, whom my Lexington readers may recognize as the Founder of Awesome Inc. Over coffee one cold January evening in 2010, Luke shared with me his ultimate vision for how Awesome Inc could eventually reshape the Lexington community, taking inspiration from Silicon Valley tech startup culture and from Google’s innovative mission.
Luke, Ben, and I started by simply identifying people and organizations with interesting events in Lexington, letting them know about the meetup, and finding and posting events on a weekly basis to the meetup group. Together, we helped spread the word about meetups via social networks and face-to-face networking groups, such as the Digital Media Artists Group (later renamed the Bluegrass Area Digital Media Artists Group). As Editor for BADMAG’s digital arts magazine at that time, I also offered to advertise any events of interest to local designers, photographers, freelancers, or digital artists within the magazine as well.
In addition to coordinating events, I also brainstormed ways for TechLife Lexington to network with other local technology-oriented groups to support each other within the community at a local, grassroots level. A few such networking meetings included meeting with Ben Kuchera, founder of Lexington’s Blueprint Saints Magazine. I also helped Luke Murray and Awesome Inc share their 5ACROSS pitch competition for Kentucky-based entrepreneurs. Since 2010, 5ACROSS has “given over 250 founders a new platform and thousands of Kentuckians a fun place to engage with local startups.”
After I eventually moved back to Louisville, Luke became busier with the growth of Awesome Inc, and Ben refocused his time on TechLife Columbus, TechLife Lexington eventually fizzled out and was replaced by other groups doing similar work for the local community. Although TechLife Lexington is now defunct, along with BADMAG, NextPlex, and similar movements that have come and gone since then, it’s nice to see that the same grassroots passion for local, small-town technologists is still thriving in my hometown. There are opportunities, big ideas, entrepreneurial mindsets, and startups outside of Silicon Valley. Be willing to look for them, support them, and amplify them…