Why An IP Lawyer Co-Founded The Largest Startup Conference In The Midwest

by Tim Jahn on September 17, 2010

Jonathan Pasky is an IP lawyer and one of the three guys behind Midventures, a Chicago technology consulting firm.  A few months ago, they threw an event called midVentures25, which was a startup demo day.

When the response was greater than they expected, Jonathan and team decided to step it up a notch.  They decided they wanted to throw the biggest and best technology startup conference the Midwest has ever seen.

So that’s what they’re doing.  On September 27 and 28, Jonathan and the Midventures team are throwing midVenturesLAUNCH, a giant startup and innovation conference, in Chicago.

But how did an IP lawyer, a philosophy major, and a history major prepare to throw the largest tech startup conference in the Midwest?


Jonathan Pasky:
So, I’m Jonathan Pasky one of the cofounders of midVenturesLAUNCH. And what midVenturesLAUNCH is, is a demo day pitch competition, but really it’s much bigger than that. It’s the largest start-up and innovation conference in the Midwest.

Tim Jahn:
So what inspired you to launch a conference?

Jonathan Pasky:
Yeah. I was working in a law firm. I left, went to a start-up called FanFound, here in Chicago, was in the music space. And worked there for about a year and a half as their vice president of business operations and general council. And like most start-ups in the 90, 95% of them, we ran out of money. And what ended up happening after that was I went out, I started my own law firm, Pasky IP and hooked up with Brian and Geoff over at Midventures. We were actually in the same building FanFound was as Midventures office at the time.

They were throwing smaller events. The last one that they threw before the Midventures 25 conference was a crowdsourcing panel where they had Mike Sampson from Crowdspring; Adam Siegel, Inkling markets; Andrew Mason from Groupon. And I think it was Kasar Usis from Camisa, the T-shirt Company here in Chicago. So all Chicago based start-ups but around a topic, crowdsourcing.

That was right before Andrew really made it big at Groupon and that was still The Point. And we had about 75, 80 people at those events. And I was there, I looked at them and I said, “This is really interesting. This sort of discussion, this conversation is not being really being had here in Chicago. It’s very much a Silicon Valley type conversation.”

So I got together with Brian and Geoff and I said, “Look, let’s take the Midventures name and brand it for conferences, much bigger events of what you’re doing here, but you’re only reaching 100 people. Let’s reach more.” So we threw the Midventures 25 conference as a partnership between Midventures and Pasky IP. And since then with midventuresLAUNCH, I’ve actually, I’m still doing my law firm as well, but I’ve actually come on board with Midventures and formed more of a cohesive team so that we can thrown the midventuresLAUNCH conference and showcase the Midwest, and showcase Chicago’s talent for start-ups.

Tim Jahn:
Where do you even start when you’re looking to launch a conference? Like you look at some of these events out there. I mean, the three of you saw the 25 work and now you have this vision for something even bigger. But where do you even start?

Jonathan Pasky:
Well, I can tell you, shout out here to Fred Hoch over at ITA because Geoff and I went back in December of ’09, we had this idea that he got on board with me and I said, “Lets do this but lets get some guidance first.” So we talked to Fred, we went over to the TechNexus here in Chicago, incubator’s been around for a while, and sat down with him and he — we gave him our ideas to what we wanted to throw and his first initial reaction was, “go for it guys.”

But we also had some ideas that probably weren’t, we weren’t thinking the right budget, we weren’t thinking the right scope, the right marketing. And so he helped us along in that area. He gave us the space that we had for the last conference over at the 200 Microsoft building and really helped us out with pushing us along. So definitely credit Fred for helping us do that. But, beyond that, it’s really the network of people that we’ve made.

Tim Jahn:
What’s been the biggest challenge putting together midventuresLAUNCH?

Jonathan Pasky:
We have no experience as event planners whatsoever. So like I said, I’m a patent attorney, and before that, electrical engineer. Brian and Geoff, recent graduates of the University of Chicago in philosophy and history majors. Also both self-taught coders as well, and developers. But beyond that, throwing events is not necessarily our forte or our experience. And so it’s really knowing the details, the ins and outs of doing those sort of things. Neither — none of us are journalists either, right.

Typically we’ll see that if you look at the Tech Crunch conference or what Mike Arrington and Jason Calcanus did. Mike Arrington, yes he was a lawyer, but he went did journalism for five, six years before he started throwing conferences at Tech Crunch. And Jason was also, people may not remember this before he did Mahalo. He was doing Silicon Alley and Silicon Alley’s major newspaper and rag in New York City. So he was a journalist. Mike Arrington’s both journalists and they threw conferences.

A lot of the tech conferences we also see, Tim O’Reilly, one of the best minds in the business, started from books, journalism, writing. And so we don’t really have that background necessarily. And so that’s the challenge, right. We don’t have that network of people. It’s building that network, getting it going. But like I said, we’ve had lots and lots of help.

Tim Jahn:
So what drove you to get involved with this? What actually made you say, “All right, I’m going to be the third person here. I’m going to be a part of this, I’m going to make this happen to”?

Jonathan Pasky:
Really because when I was working in a start-up, I got to see start-up law from that — I mean, it’s not really, in law, it’s not really a category but it’s really the type of law that you have to do for start-ups and what that really means. I come at it from mainly intellectual property law. But there’s a lot more that gets involved in the business side of things. And there’s a lot of errors that companies can make when they’re just starting up.

And so I got to see that first hand working in a start-up and then also going out on my own in my own law firm, seeing it from the perspective of getting clients that I can help eliminate some of these barriers to entry, or the mistakes that they can make in setting up equity for their company, in protecting their IP, in figuring out who is a founder, who isn’t and divvying up that sort of space as well.

There’s lots of pitfalls and roadblocks along the way. But, honestly, I believe in the entrepreneurial spirit. And so because of that, and because of what Midventures was doing, it was just a really general good fit. Seeing that they’re helping out the entrepreneurs and the start-up scene and help grow it. I came at it from a legal side, but it’s all about helping the entrepreneurs and small business people. And people with really great ideas, really take those ideas to fruition and be building businesses from those ideas.

Tim Jahn:
If you were to come across who was like, “I’m want to start my own conference or I want to start something of that grand magnitude”, what piece of advice would you have for them?

Jonathan Pasky:
Believe in what you’re doing. And if you don’t believe in your cause or your theme, then that’s not going to be reflected in the output that you give. And I think that’s one of the things that speaks so well with Midventures, midventuresLAUNCH is that people see that. If you’re in it just for yourself or as a lead gen or a sales cycle, it’s not going to come across the same way as if you’re in it for building the community and giving back. I mean, and that’s really what it is.

For us, it is about helping Midventures as a company, helping Pasky IP as a company. But it’s also about building the community where there is none. And showing, it’s a pride thing as well. Showing the rest of the world, showing the rest of the United States that the Midwest can compete in the technology space. And with that as a goal, it shows in the work that you do and it shows in the product that you create, the services that you create, and people will respond to that.

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