Gelphman is the founder of Kansas City IT Professionals, a grassroots networking group. He started it on LinkedIn in 2008, after reading a blog on career building.
"I didn't see anything on LinkedIn about IT in Kansas City," he says. "We got to 500 or 600 members, and I realized we might be on to something."
He's putting his hard work on display this weekend with Hack the Midwest, a two-day Hackathon (June 2 and 3). Gelphman expects 70 to 100 developers and designers from all over the Midwest - Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines - to show up and build apps from scratch at the Heartland Golf Club (8200 Hillcrest Road, 816-523-8601).
"When you get people like that in a room and working together and you get this energy, you don't know what will come out of it," he says. "I'm hoping to see something awesome."
The Hackathon starts Saturday at 9 a.m. and wraps up Sunday at 11 a.m., with contest winners announced at 3 that afternoon. The all-star judging panel includes OpenAir Equity Partners' Thad Langford, AgLocal founder Naithan Jones, outgoing Kauffman Foundation Manager of Entrepreneurship Nick Seguin and others. (Register at hackthemidwest.com.)
The session is part of Gelphman's plan to foster a culture of what's possible in Kansas City. It's also an opportunity for developers and designers to network, show off their skills and claim some booty (an iPad 3, two Amazon Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon gift cards, Jawbone Jambox and more).
"The more successes that you have with start-ups locally, then you can sort of change that culture, and getting people to take more risks and believe that it's possible," he says. "In Silicon Valley, the start-up that you work at might fail. You'll just go to another. We don't have that kind of density here. So there's lots of risk."
Gelphman knows firsthand about risk. He took a chance arranging KCITP's first happy hour, in February 2009. It paid off: About 200 of the then 1,000 members attended. Since then, KCITP has put on job fairs, the Zaarly launch party, mentorship meet-ups, and several networking events and educational presentations by developers.
"I realized it was the thing that I was most passionate about," Gelphman says. "I don't want to be 60 and looking back at my life and going, ‘Could I have done that?' I wanted to at least give it a try. I knew once I got to that point where I didn't have sort of an alternative, I'd figure out a way to make it work."
KCITP held a social-accountability happy hour in January. Gelphman wanted people to think about their futures. So he asked the attendees to write down three professional goals and how they planned to accomplish them. Everyone shared their goals with someone else at the happy hour. The idea: See if the members could help one another accomplish their goals.
"Every new year, people are like, ‘I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that.' It ends up being just talk," Gelphman says. "Sometimes with people's careers, there's not a natural progression. They graduate from college, and then they get a good job, and to them, that's good enough. They don't really know what next steps to take."
The economy tanking in 2008 didn't help, Gelphman says.
"They're fearful," he says. "And just getting people to be entrepreneurial about their career, just trying to find opportunities and build themselves up so that they don't have to be scared anymore and they can go wherever they want to. It's all about how much work they put in."
Kansas City IT Professionals has grown to more than 8,500 people. Gelphman says some group members have found work through networking, and he's made a lot of connections.
"It's been an amazing experience," he says. "There's been people's lives who have changed because of the group."
Other tech-, innovation- and entrepreneur-themed events this summer include iKC, billed by its organizers as "Kansas City's innovation and entrepreneurship conference." It's June 20 at H&R Block headquarters. The keynote speaker is Michael E. Raynor, a director with Deloitte Consulting LLP, and among the day's events are sessions on creativity, innovation, pitches and monetization. Tickets cost $189 (corporate), $119 (start-up, small business and nonprofit) or $75 (student).
And the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is the site of TEDxKC 2012 August 28. Tickets go on sale the second week in July.
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