In its 10th incarnation, the Vermont Tech Jam landed at the Champlain Valley Exposition last week.
Produced by Seven Days, the annual technology expo, career fair and speaker series has been a nomad in Chittenden County for the past decade. It has taken place in hotel conference rooms, a vacant Church Street building, Winooski’s Woolen Mill and Burlington’s Memorial Hall.
The location has remained unsettled partly to keep the event fresh, said organizer Cathy Resmer of Seven Days, but also because Burlington lacks a dedicated convention center. Will the expo become a long-term Tech Jam host? Only time, and an exhibitor survey, will tell.
“We’ll see how people like this space,” Resmer said. “We can do a lot with it. We can customize it. And everyone knows how to get here.”
About 70 exhibitors filled the expo’s Robert E. Miller building for the Friday and Saturday event. Among them was Colchester’s Vermont Information Processing, a Mountain View Drive business that’s a Tech Jam veteran and an event sponsor for the first time this year.
VIP employs about 200 people in Colchester and 300 nationally, with offices in four other states, according to human resources director Lindie Holsopple.
Founded in 1972, the company has innovated not only information management services for the beverage industry but also employee culture. VIP operates an in-house day care for employee/parents and in 2011 became 100 percent employee owned.
“[Employee ownership] really sets our company apart as far as the culture we have,” Holsopple said. “If we succeed as a company, that trickles down to us. We think about things like reducing expenses, because the money we save is going to come back to our employees.”
VIP attends the Tech Jam to recruit employees and raise brand awareness.
“It gets our name out there and lets people know what a great company we are to work for,” Holsopple said. “Our customer base has grown tremendously, and we need more manpower.”
A handful of Essex entities took advantage of the hometown location, including Revision, Flex-a-Seal and Heco Engineering.
Heco founder Emir Heco was nominated for a “Jammy” – a Tech Jam startup award – for founding Essex’s first co-working space, Excelerate Essex, in 2015 near Five Corners. Heco was a speaker Friday afternoon at the Tech Jam’s “Lightning Talk” series, featuring five-minute talks from representatives of seven Jammy-nominated companies.
Excelerate Essex, Heco said, is almost completely full. Heco sees it as an incubator for entrepreneurs to get a foothold before they’re ready to open their own offices and hire people.
“It’s not a business. It’s a community effort,” Heco said.
Dimitri Garder, co-founder of a co-working space in Bennington called Lightning Jar, re-enforced Heco’s assertion that co-working spaces must incorporate a variety of community assets to survive. They are not meant to be profitable, he said.
Lightning Jar is made possible by a donation of office space from the Vermont State Employees Credit Union.
Garder counts eight co-working spaces in Vermont and said the demand will increase as more workers become untethered from their employer’s location. The spaces also represent a homegrown path to economic development – “economic gardening,” Garder explained – versus an “economic hunting” model that focus on government incentives to attract existing businesses to locate in Vermont.
“Do we build our future economy, or do we buy it?” Garder asked. “I think we build it.”
Colchester may soon have a co-working space of its own. The Burnham Library recently took over use of the Colchester Meeting House, and library trustees have stated their desire to open a co-working space there.