The Combine brings tech world to Bloomington
Nestled along College Avenue in Bloomington is a tech conference with global reach that’s been growing quickly over its eight-year run. The Combine is an opportunity for entrepreneurs, thinkers, and others connected to the tech ecosystem of Indiana and abroad to meet and exchange ideas. More than 300 people are expected to attend this year’s conference on April 6 and 7. Attendees can learn from workshops to help new businesses start or grow, watch main stage speakers, and connect with others at happy hour events and an after party.
The Combine arose from the need for an innovation and startup conference focused on Bloomington’s small but growing tech community. Mike Trotzke, Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Humanetrix Foundation — the nonprofit organization that hosts the conference — was inspired by the conferences he had attended for years, especially Big Omaha in Nebraska. “Big Omaha was smaller, but it was a community conference,” he said. “It was a great intersection of the community getting together and the passion of tech in Omaha. Investors, founders, creatives, there was a mixing of all these different groups.”
As CEO of Bloomington-based Cheddar, Mike also saw the need for this type of conference from an entrepreneur’s perspective. “The goal was to try to bring content that’s appealing to a wide, different group of people. We wanted to hit our Five C’s: Community, Code, Culture, Capital, and Creativity,” he said.
Mike worked to get the Bloomington community excited at the prospect of a similar community conference, raising financial support and volunteers, and The Combine first took place in 2010. Since then, more than 1,500 attendees have learned both from each other and nationally-recognized presenters who represent broad perspectives on tech. These past speakers have included Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, about.me founder Tony Conrad, comedian and Witstream creator Michael Ian Black, coworking space pioneer Tara Hunt, Startup Weekend founder Andrew Hyde, angel investor Paige Craig, and GitHub co-founder Chris Wanstrath.
As the needs of The Combine grew with its audience size, the conference’s all-volunteer staff started receiving more help from the Bloomington community. For example, Cook Medical has donated staff time and talent, particularly from their marketing and design department, to prepare branded materials that the conference needs. “We went from five volunteers organizing the event to a team of 17 with the addition of Cook,” Mike said.
This year, the group of talented speakers includes Jay Baer, president of social media strategy firm Convince & Convert. A New York Times bestselling author whose company is headquartered in Bloomington, Jay will share his advice from his experiences on how to be disruptive. Other main stage speakers are Scale Computing CEO Jeff Ready and Indiana University’s vice president for information technology and CIO Brad Wheeler. Investor Paul Singh will also be making a stop through town with his eye on investing in some Indiana startups. Paul is co-founder of Results Junkies, a team that travels across North America to visit, mentor, and invest in the places where startups launch and grow their businesses.
The speaker group represents how The Combine works to bring together a variety of people to interact with each other. “We try to combine the many audiences in this event, and we intentionally pick speakers who draw people in and create as many collisions between people as we can,” Mike said. Along with workshops on topics like financing, creating company culture, and marketing products, The Combine creates opportunities for people involved in the tech ecosystem to form and build relationships.
With more speakers and people joining the conference, Mike sees a future where The Combine has a reach not only in Indiana but also all across the region. “We want The Combine to be a touchpoint for the startup community in the Midwest,” he said. “It’s established, with a great alumni of speakers, and we want to leverage that to make it a Midwest tech startup touchpoint.”
To learn more about the speakers and workshops, or to buy tickets to this year’s conference, you can go to The Combine’s website.