Tech Night at Lexington Market: Success or Failure?
Hey, Tech Innovator, what did you think of the new setting for Tech Night? ~ Maryland Daily Record
Frequent readers of this blog know how much this Tech Innovator appreciates the power of networking. When innovators from startups and enterprise companies come together, valuable business opportunities can be formed. But the setting has to be right – it can’t be an event full of salespeople or non-decision makers. So when a reporter from Maryland Daily Record came up to me at GBTC’s Tech Night last Thursday, and asked me what I thought of Lexington Market as a venue for Tech Night, I had a strong opinion.
For starters, as I wrote in a recent post (Why did the region’s premier technology organization change?), I thought it was a smart decision by GBTC lead Jason Hardebeck to stop doing duplicative events that were already being hosted successfully by other organizations. I told the reporter that Tech Night was something unique to GBTC. Thanks to Jason’s fresh and risky leadership, Tech Night focused on what I call “making new things familiar and familiar things new”.
To me, that’s the secret of innovation. When we do new things, we need to make them seem familiar. And when we innovate, we make familiar things new. Tech Night made familiar things new this year. The Lexington Market is familiar for different reasons, and has been “world famous” since 1787. But there was also an old prejudice about Lexington Market that it is not a place for successful business owners to meet.
The reporter asked if there was skepticism about the venue before the event. I said, personally, I was optimistic, but several friends told me they were worried that Lexington Market would not be a good venue for Tech Night. Once they arrived at the event, however, those worries went away.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who was at Tech Night, spoke about her vision for bringing people to the West Side of downtown, and helping Baltimore businesses grow. Hosting Tech Night at Lexington Market was a new angle on the Mayor’s vision.
In that regard, Tech Night itself is a form of innovation in community building. Hosting it at Lexington Market is an example of thinking outside the box. They even gave businesses a reason to go back to Lexington Market, by leaving behind a better infrastructure (free wi-fi) for businesses to make use of technology.
Another cool thing the GBTC did for Tech Night this year was bring the price down from $180 to $40. This change allowed more people to join the event, helped bring more people together, and gave them a venue that was more casual. In my opinion, these decisions pulled together the technology community and established a foundation we can build on.
What interests me most is how it all comes back to user experience. Technology innovators who design an app or product are facing the same challenges that the GBTC faces in finding a suitable venue for Tech Night. We look for ways to make the product or app more usable and user friendly. In the end, the experience should be more engaging and usable.
Now, if I look at the Lexington Market in comparison to more formal setting, such as the Convention Center, I see a stark contrast. First of all it has a very casual, lean, start-up look and fresh feel to it. Most of the people were dressed in jeans and polo shirts, and not in suit and tie. Rather than sitting at round tables through dinner, and only being able to talk with the person on your right or the person on your left, the new Tech Night was more engaging for people. It was more approachable and engaging. You could go to any counter, pick up what you wanted to eat. You could move freely through the crowd, greeting old friends and making new ones. The whole event was more user friendly.
In my final comments to the reporter, I mentioned that more could be done on the user friendliness of Tech Night. A few things from event management could be improved: the entrance could be better marked; getting people in the door could be better coordinated. Also I found the announcements difficult to hear, and the drink coupons difficult to use.
But overall, it was an excellent idea to bring in entrepreneurs and business people, expose them to this side of the town, and help them make connections. It may get some new businesses to come to Baltimore City.
So, congratulations to all the folks who work so hard to make GBTC a valuable asset for Baltimore. Tech Night at Lexington Market was a successful experiment. It left me feeling more strongly that people should take risks like this. Innovating and creating a different experience for our customers is how we stand apart from the crowd.
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