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Tech Toolkit: Non-techie? Join the local tech community anyway

Elizabeth Millard//July 11, 2013//

Tech Toolkit: Non-techie? Join the local tech community anyway

Elizabeth Millard//July 11, 2013//

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The Twin Cities technology community is vibrant and solid, chock full of entrepreneurs and innovators—and you don’t even have to be a techie to be involved.

Many non-tech companies are involved in the local tech scene, according to Mike Bollinger, co-founder of tech news site TECHdotMN and founder of Minneapolis-based Livefront, a mobile application design and development firm. In particular, companies that offer services like accounting, marketing, legal insight, PR, and strategy consulting see the tech sector here as a rich source of clients. Also, being more active in the tech scene allows companies to be more competitive when it comes to hiring tech talent.

Here are some top tips on tapping into the tech community, no matter what your firm’s focus areas might be:

Attend conferences and other events

The Twin Cities boasts a wealth of technology-related events, such as MinneDemo, She’s Geeky, ProductCamp, and other gatherings. Co-working space CoCo hosts a number of events designed to blend business and technology savvy, and smaller group meetups can be found on the events page at TECHdotMN.

Granted, some of the user groups and conferences can be highly technical, so unless you’re looking to make the leap into software development using a specific programming language, it’s probably best to stick with the more general events. One way to kick off participation is to attend competitions, says Shivani Khanna, Engineering and Product Manager at Minneapolis-based Sport Ngin.

“There are numerous ‘hackathon’ type of events being hosted where ad-hoc teams can come together to build a website for a nonprofit,” she says. The Nerdery hosts a popular site-building contest, and StartupWeekend sponsors others. Watching these competitions can give you a sense of how technology professionals work, which can be valuable when doing hiring or bringing on tech consultants, Khanna believes. “You meet very talented individuals, and you have the opportunity to evaluate whether they’re the right fit for your organization.”

Consider hosting a workshop or leading a session

Because there’s such emphasis on blending technology with other business realms like marketing and strategy, the numerous events and gatherings in the Twin Cities provide ample opportunity for advancing thought leadership, Khanna says.

“Most conferences, user groups, and other events are often looking for speakers who are willing to share their experiences,” she advises. “For small companies that have established proficiency in a certain niche, this is a great way to get yourself out there, share your expertise, and network with individuals who are passionate about what you’re doing.”

Become an event sponsor

Conference sponsorship is a good way to get a company’s name circulating, and to build recognition for the company’s services or products. For example, law firm Gray Plant Mooty sponsored TECHdotMN for several years, and now holds events in the Twin Cities, including some at CoCo.

“The firm has a history of sponsoring organizations and events that support our clients,” says Douglas Ramler, a principal at Gray Plant Mooty. “When we wanted to focus more on tech companies we looked for the organizations that had the most impact on the Minnesota tech scene. We knew that by supporting tech companies generally and these organizations specifically, the entire Minnesota tech economy and our practice would benefit.”

Gray Plant Mooty has generated a number of clients directly through tech sponsorships, Ramler adds, as well as publicity and a strong reputation among entrepreneurs and investors. He says, “Our efforts have also resulted in a tremendous network of investors, advisors, professionals, consultants, and others who support tech companies, which helps us to be business builders in addition to great lawyers.”

Take your time

In general, becoming involved with the local tech scene can be a boon for business, but can sometimes feel intimidating to those who haven’t explored the community. Bollinger advises that a “slow and steady” approach is best, as company executives socialize, network, attend events, and create a good reputation in the industry. “The best way for a new individual or organization to start getting involved is to be present,” says Bollinger. “Discover where you can help others, be generous with your network, demonstrate that you add value, and expect nothing in return.”

Being present doesn’t have to involve chunks of time or budget funds, just a willingness to explore a new network of professionals. Even events can be free, for those who are willing to volunteer for a few hours.

“Over time, as your network, influence, and familiarity with the community grows, you will be better able to identify where a leadership role makes sense,” says Bollinger. “You’ll find out how a sponsorship can best be leveraged, and how to give back in ways that make the biggest impact for the greatest number of people.”

Elizabeth Millard writes about technology. Formerly senior editor at ComputerUser, her work has appeared in Business 2.0, eWeek, Linux Magazine and TechNewsWorld.

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