Last Wednesday we took a jaunt down to Kansas City to attend Highlight Midwest, a day-long event that spotlighted all sorts of interesting tech-related projects, people and companies from the Triangle of Awesome: KC, Des Moines and Omaha.
The daytime event (held at RecordBar) was structured as an Unconference: three presentations being held simultaneously, only a few feet away from one another, with attendees listening and participating packed in shoulder-to-shoulder. Some might refer to this as complete chaos, but it’s really part of the charm of the Unconference format. Projector screens are literally sheets hung from the wall with duct tape, and at any given time, somebody might set their iPhone on the mixing board and knock out the entire sound system with an ear-splitting jolt of feedback. (I loved this.)
Above: Andy Brudtkuhl’s presentation at Highlight Midwest
My main takeaway from Highlight Midwest is that, in terms of Web and new media innovations, things are moving fast here in Flyover Country — very fast. Dozens of smart entrepreneurs are following their hearts and talents and creating amazing new products, despite everyone telling them they are crazy. I learned about StorEnvy, Swindlr and Social Radar for the first time (all born in Kansas City). I was also introduced to BetterOmaha.com — a news resource built by a couple of guys who decided they could build something better, and more intuitive, that any of Omaha’s traditional media outlets.
I enjoyed finally getting the chance to see some friends and colleagues from here in Des Moines speak, as well. Daniel Shipton talked about the co-working movement and his space, Impromptu Studio. Mike Templeton discussed his Microblink project, a portal for microblogging-related news and information. Andy Brudtkuhl spoke about “hyperlocal” content and communities. Mike Ferrari showed off his company, SmartyPig, a social savings site. @livecrunch talked SEO, blogging, and streamed most of the event live. Brett Trout gave a presentation on digital copyright and legal issues, although it was happening the same moment that Hillary and I were on stage, so I didn’t get to see all of it. Ironically, both Brett and I had PowerPoint slides up at the same time about social capital — AKA the “Whuffie” Factor.
Often we’re asked if Lava Row is the only company of its kind (social media strategy firm) in the Midwest. This event proved that we are certainly not alone — and that’s a good thing. We discovered two emerging groups (The Social Lites and Ideas & Angles) both based in Kansas City and comprised of extremely bright, talented people.
For the evening event, we moved over to the Kauffman Convention Center for a panel discussion about the technographic and entrepreneurial DNA of Des Moines, KC and Omaha. The crowd was welcomed by video remarks from internet superstars Gary Vaynerchuk, Sarah Lacy and Chris Pirillo (video embeds are at the bottom of this post). I sat on the city panel along with fellow 515ers Jason Walsmith of The Nadas and Aaron Webb. Admittedly, the discussion was a bit dry at first, but it got more interesting once the crowd stared to participate. If we could do it again, I’d probably recommend throwing the microphone into the audience halfway in, instead of going for questions during the last five minutes.
Above: Residents of Kansas City, Des Moines and Omaha discuss movements within their cities. Photo via Swindlr on Flickr.
Highlight Midwest was an extraordinary success because it brought us all out of our geographic silos and connected us on a regional level, further expanding each individual’s network, reach, and voice. We can’t let this become a larger silo — we’ve got to stay loud and vocal and we’ve got to keep educating. I am already looking forward to next year’s event — rumor has it that it will be held in Des Moines!
Opening video remarks from Gary Vaynerchuk, Sarah Lacy and Chris Pirillo:
Related blog posts about Highlight Midwest:
Highlight Midwest 2008 by Christina Maki
What I Learned at Highlight Midwest #hm1 by Troy Rutter
Highlight Midwest: The Midwest is More Than Flyover States by @jeffisageek
Highlight Midwest Recap by Zachary Cobb
Highlight Midwest… A Swindlr recap by Swindlr
Highlight Midwest 2008 Rocked by Andy Brudtkuhl
Flickr photos from Highlight Midwest: