Kalamazoo event builds community in IT across the state

Realizing there was a need for more networking and collaborative growth opportunities for IT professionals in the region, Daniel Jeffries, founder of Kalamazoo-based Newmind Group took a page out of the entrepreneurial playbook and came together with his team to hatch an event-driven concept, Build IT Together.

Now in its fourth year, and growing rapidly, Build IT Together, or BIT, is hosting events in Kalamazoo, as well as the Greater Detroit Area to promote community and idea-sharing within the IT community, the next of which will take place May 31 at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in Kalamazoo. 

“Dan was seeing the energy and excitement that was happening in the entrepreneurial community here in Kalamazoo and in Michigan and as a whole,” says Daniel Proczko, director of marketing with Newmind. “We looked at the IT community and realized there aren’t many similar events or outlets out there.

“So we decided to create one where IT professionals and executives could come together to share their experiences and insights in running their businesses, and how technology plays a role to make them better. It gives IT professionals an opportunity to talk about the challenges they currently have, what they see as potential challenges in three years, what their successes are right now and how they use those to propel their organizations.”

What started as an initial half-day conference in Kalamazoo has evolved into an annual event in Kalamazoo, another in Detroit and monthly meet-ups that rotate between the two communities, fostering cross-pollination between two major IT corridors in the state.

The event

This May’s conference in Kalamazoo will be a single-track event, allowing each attendee the opportunity to attend the same four hour-long sessions over the course of the afternoon. The sessions will focus on data security, goal setting and key performance indicators, how to effectively use data analysis and utilizing remote work forces in today’s business climate.

“One key thing to note is that our sessions aren’t talks, they are either panel discussions or workshops, designed so that you can gain insights and share with those right at your table,” Proczko said. “It’s a very collaborative, interactive event where attendees are able to interact with our moderators and panelists and all the other experts in the room to pull out those insights that are right and are going to work for them.”

A prime example of that is the approach Matthew Mace, founder and CEO of Kalamazoo-based Blue Granite, Inc., will bring to his data analytics discussion. 

Mace, whose company focuses on system integration and builds data models for companies dealing heavily in analytics, will help facilitate a panel that will focus on how companies of different sizes and makeup use data on a daily basis to help both employees and clients. Joining Mace on the panel will be by representatives from the university, large corporation and small business sectors.

“For me it’s a chance to hear what other people are doing and are excited about beyond the bubble I live in, and then share that,” Mace says. “It’s nice to maybe get a couple client referrals at these events but it is really more about being a part of the vibrant IT community that Newmind is helping to build.”

Listening to what is important

Listening to the IT community is what has really allowed Build IT to grow, at a rate of 30 percent annually in the Detroit area and even faster in Kalamazoo.

“We surveyed over 500 business and IT leaders in Michigan to see what these organizations are looking for to help improve their businesses and based on their responses we create a curriculum for the year for BIT that includes webinars, the meet-ups and the two half-day events in Kalamazoo and Detroit,” Proczko says. 

“One topic that keeps coming up, and one of the four that will be addressed in Kalamazoo this May, is data security, everything from preventing hacks, preventing fishing attacks, training staff on being more savvy, protecting vendors.” 

Another focal point of the event will be the increasing role remote work forces have in the IT world. 

“There are more open positions for tech jobs in areas like Kalamazoo than there are qualified people in the region to fill the positions. So one strategy is looking beyond the region,” Proczko says. “Technology allows us to stay in touch so easily. So the question becomes, how do we create these work forces that aren’t located centrally where our headquarters are? Do we create a satellite office in a place like Seattle where a lot of those people are or do we have individuals scattered around? 

“Either way, the issue becomes how do we export our culture to those people and how do we get them to feel like they are part of our team and import culture from them to make them feel like they are an integral part of the team.”

There will be a panel of local leaders who have experience working with remote work forces to lead the discussion on what tools are available to stay synced on tasks, maintain communication and work together on project management.
The keynote presentation, delivered by Wendy Pat Fong, Director of Talent and Operations at 7Geese in Vancouver, BC, will hone in on goal setting, and how to use key performance indicators to help build a motivated and positive culture.

Fong, who has grown her team from five employees to 26 in four years, said the key to internal growth at 7 Geese has been understanding what the organization wanted to do and finding people with the same mindset who have a desire to help the company achieve its goals.

She says she hopes the main takeaway people have from her discussion is the shift in how people are talking about goals and how with more frequent goal-oriented meetings, as opposed to once a year HR-mandated sit downs, businesses are able to hold individuals more accountable and ensure everyone shares the same ultimate vision.

“There has been a trend of more and more companies to not just focus on the leadership team, but work on individual goal setting, moving outside of silos to set goals with the same vision in mind, making sure that all departments and individuals are working toward the same end goal,” she said. “That’s a real key to growth, and one thing we will be focusing on.”

Click here to register for this year’s event.  All tickets include lunch, dinner and a post-event networking reception. 

Ryan Boldrey is a freelance journalist and editor living in Kalamazoo. A Michigan native, he returned to his home state in 2016 after spending a decade working as a writer and editor in Colorado. He spends much of his time traveling to see live music and is an avid outdoor enthusiast.
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