The Midwest takes a community approach to tech investment and projects


The growth of the tech sector in the Midwest is becoming a national priority in part because of changing industries, but the region is also taking a refreshing, community approach.

The Midwest Tech Project is a program which was created to “connect inner city students to the world of technology and the tech industry.” Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the project enrolls black and Latino students and provides them a system of mentorship through which they become equipped with skills like coding, cyber security, web design and go on to make a living in the tech sector.

Coupled with the mentorship program, the projects hosts a number of events and projects in the region designed to create the same kind of tech ecosystem which exists in coastal regions of the US. Last month, for example, Founders Jonathan Jelks and Alvin J. Hills IV, hosted the first City Hacks GR Tech Weekend and Hackathon.

Theta Ventures, also based in Grand Rapids, was a co-organizer of the weekend for which the centerpiece will be a hackathon during which competitors will create and present their best business concepts and ideas in an attempt to win the $5,000 prize.

However, the event started with a forum on the city’s ambition of becoming a tech hub, followed by discussions and presentations in various locations. Such a community approach is a definite step forward for this large and promising region.

The Midwest tech sector might be the answer to the region’s declining manufacturing sector, if so growing a fully connected ecosystem of businesses and endeavors will be vital. As Victor Gutwein, managing director of M25 Group, a micro-venture capital fund out of Chicago, told the Lexington Herald Leader recently, “The level of attention right now is really low, but the level of activity is really high and, so, there’s this big-market inefficiency.”

In Pete Saunders’ new series in Forbes, he points out that the development of other areas of the US were based around ports, politics, finance, and other specific areas of activity. Even the South, which is a broader area, was known as an area of cotton plantations.

The Midwest, on the other hand, has developed a more varied economy based on the multiple abilities and benefits of different areas within it. But, as we’ve pointed out on Techli before, the area is ripening with those moving out of cities looking for a more mature life with a family and a community. It is this sense of community which the region can harbor to tackle the tech sector as well, knitting together the disparate activity to a coherent regional sector.

West Michigan Tech Talent (WMTT) is an example of this. The Midwest Tech Project is also involved along with Bizstream Academy, Bitcamp, and Talent 2025. These organizations have combined to bring together employers, education providers and workforce experts to create and sustain a diverse pool of IT talent, while promoting West Michigan as a thriving IT community.

SalesPad is another interested party, whose president, Matt Williams, told GRBJ, “We believe it’s important to collaborate with other employers in our community to support a strong tech talent pool here in West Michigan. We encourage anyone who has a passion for growing West Michigan’s tech industry to get involved.”

WMTT has varied and ambitious goals including promoting diverse and equitable IT careers from kindergarten through to college students, upskilling the current workforce, creating recruitment campaigns with groups like Hello West Michigan, branding West Michigan as an IT hub and promoting existing organizations while also raising funds to support WMTT initiatives, including grants and scholarships.

It is this breadth of approach across the Midwest community which will be able to use the Midwest culture to drive a tech ecosystem in a way other tech hubs could not.

Ben Allen

Ben Allen is a traveler, a writer and a Brit. He worked in the London startup world for a while but really prefers commenting on it than working in it. He has huge faith in the tech industry and enjoys talking and writing about the social issues inherent in its development.

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