Techweek 2012 will be invading the city for five days. How did you initially get involved?

I was a producer for Techweek last year which was the inaugural event. I was in charge of booking all of the marquee speakers from San Francisco, Chicago and Silicon Valley. This year I was asked to step up to executive director so I took the opportunity and that’s how I made it here.

What made Chicago the right spot to host a tech conference?

I think the time has come for Chicago and it’s really exciting. In Silicon Valley you have a very concentrated group of people, ideas and startups but the interesting part about Chicago is that it’s just starting here. This scene is now seeing a lot of interest from not only the startup community but from corporations and big brand agencies.

Is there one company that you think really put us on the map? 

I’m gonna go there and say Groupon. I know that there might be some sort of controversial aspect of that but I tell the naysayers that the fact of the matter is Groupon is what sparked what’s going on here and it’s continuing. Sometimes all you need is a spark in a market that’s hungry for it and Chicago was like a pit full of gas and with one spark it ignited.

Biggest indicator that a startup will be successful?

I think that the founder is a big, big component of what the startup is going to become. One of my mentors once said, “The fish always stink from the top,” and it’s true. If you have a strong leader, you’ll have a strong organization especially when you have these startups that have very fast growth rates. You really need someone who is strong and can go with whatever is happening and work with that to turn it into an opportunity. That is really a big factor beyond the idea.

What is your biggest piece of advice for young entrepreneurs?

Trust your skill, trust your instinct and protect yourself. There’s no rhyme or reason that is helpful for everyone or a blanket formula on how to succeed but I think that you can figure it out by being really authentic and trusting yourself and looking at what you have and saying, “This is the way I should do this,” and doing it with integrity. If you put that all together, whatever life hands you — if your base is that knowledge, integrity and intuition — you can make it through. Even if you make a really bad mistake, don’t worry about it. That’s part of being an entrepreneur – failing.

Has there been a time when you felt like you failed?

There are so many! But it’s just as long as you keep on getting up, right? I interviewed Richard Branson in Miami once and he said, “Part of being an entrepreneur is also being an adventurer.” If you fall off, you get back up and as long as you keep on getting back up you’re going to succeed. Just don’t make the same mistakes over and over again. If you are failing, make sure there’s an ROI on that failure!

Is there one takeaway you hope people get from Techweek? 

I want people to get game-changing connections. It could sound a little trite but Techweek is here so that we can gather all different types of people and then what you do with that connection is up to you. If there’s any one thing I hope attendees get out of Techweek it’s to make those connections and make it good for them. Make it strong and make it work because you never know what’s going to transpire from that.

If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?

It’s gotta be Steve Jobs. I mean, I cried at his commencement speech. He’s impacted this generation so much. And talk about someone who had originally failed! I just think that how astute he was and his eye for detail and the way that he created devices in a way that was creative, intuitive and technologically advanced is unparalleled.

Photography by Neal Agustin

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