November 9, 2020 - 9:11 am
Building a Culture of Tech in Traverse City
Looking back and looking ahead with Russell Schindler, Founder of TCNewTech
“The biggest success of TCNewTech over the past few years is how it has driven a cultural change in Traverse City,” said Russell Schindler, Founder of TCNewTech and CEO and Founder of SampleServe. “The culture of a town is important and it helps form the next generation. Traverse City is developing a tech culture which means there are more role models in tech and more jobs in tech. We’re no longer just a tourist town – we’re a tech town.”
Russell recently left the Board of Directors of TCNewTech to focus more on his growing company, SampleServe, but he leaves behind a lasting legacy. Under Russell’s leadership, TCNewTech grew from an idea to an organization with more than 2000 members, holding monthly pitch contests attended by hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors, and tech professionals. It also helped launch 20Fathoms and inspired a culture of tech in the area.
“Russell paved the way to advance important topics in Traverse City including fiber internet, cybersecurity, agtech, and health tech,” said Sarah Hunt, Development Director at TCNewTech.
Looking back: Uniting a disconnected network of tech professionals
Russell founded TCNewTech in 2015 initially as a way to connect tech professionals in Traverse City after being inspired by a similar event in Ann Arbor: “I wanted to find more software developers for my company Sample Serve so I started attending A2 New Tech events in Ann Arbor. The events were fun – it was like watching Shark Tank. And it was happening in a room full of software developers. I thought, ‘I should do this in Traverse City.’”
Russell believed there may be enough tech professionals in Traverse City to start a small event modeled after A2 New Tech. “Once the word started getting out, they came out of the woodwork! Everyone was really enthusiastic,” he said.
The monthly TCNewTech pitch nights quickly outgrew their first event space and then their second event space. Eventually, the pitch events landed at the City Opera House in Traverse City and included a social and networking hour after each event.
TCNewTech inspires innovation and a startup ecosystem
Russell believes one of the most valuable facets of the TCNewTEch events are hearing what other businesses are doing with technology. “When you see how other people leverage technology in their business, you start to get really good ideas to leverage technology in your own business,” said Russell. “When you start to see example after example of what others are doing, that’s when the light bulb goes off.”
Russell was also integral in the creation of 20Fathoms. “I thought Traverse City could benefit from a tech incubator and startup space,” said Russell. “We had really good activity at our monthly TCNewTech events, but we needed a place for this work to be happening every day, not just once a month. I mentioned the idea at a TCNewTech meeting and there was a lot of support, including from Deanna Cannon with Northern Michigan Angels and Casey Cowell with Boomerang Catapult. Things moved quickly after that.”
SampleServe was one of the first businesses to participate in the 20Fathoms incubator and also the first graduate. “I enjoy the camaraderie in the 20Fathoms office,” said Russell. “There’s a lot of value to bouncing an idea off someone. The little nuggets you get in return can be incredibly valuable.”
Looking ahead: Post-COVID and fiber internet
During the pandemic, the TCNewTech pitch night events moved to a virtual platform. “We need to keep doing what we’re doing at TCNewTech,” said Russell. “We have solidified the importance of technology and networking in this community and people are going to be thirsty for these in-person events after COVID.”
Russell also places a high priority on expanding access to fiber internet. “One positive thing about COVID is that people are realizing how important high-speed fiber is,” said Russell. “I hope we can move the ball forward on fiber in our region. Increased access is underway in the city and I’d like to see it expand to surrounding communities.”
We are happy to report that Russell will continue to serve as an active member of the tech and startup scene in Traverse City. “I’ll still be involved but it will be in a different way,” said Russell. “As my business has grown, I want to pay it forward. I want to be the guy helping other startups get going as a role model and investor.”
Lisa Baker-Lorincz, TCNewTech board member and pitch night moderator, believes that part of the success of the pitch events is the openness, driven by Russell’s vision. “RSVPs are requested but not required, the meetings are free, and you don’t need to meet a certain criteria to attend,” Lisa said. “TCNewTech grew organically with attendees bringing new ideas and guests, writing stories, and sharing successes.”
Lisa continued, “Those who have attended the TCNewTech events may know who Russell is, but they likely do not know what he has done. He is humble like that, never mentioning that this was his idea. He networked at the events as a human, not a proprietor of something that has helped so many people. Russell had a vision for the tech ecosystem we all enjoy today. I am confident his ability to collaborate with humility has led to what we will all continue to enjoy for years to come.”