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OhioX’s Tech Tour to connect tech leaders from diverse backgrounds across Ohio despite coronavirus

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Posted at 7:17 AM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 19:07:36-04

CLEVELAND — OhioX’s Tech Tour kicks off, virtually, in Cleveland on July 8. The event was intended to be part of a series of in-person networking opportunities that is spending its inaugural year online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even before the outbreak forced companies to expand their tech and digital capabilities, OhioX President Chris Berry says one constant was that in the 21st Century, every company is a tech company at least in some way.

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OhioX is an organization trying to connect tech companies across the state to spark collaboration.

“There are all these emerging technologies that are impacting and shifting business,” said Berry.

One of those companies is Urbanova, a Spokane, Washington-based nonprofit helping cities be more effective and safer through technology. Clevelander Justin Bibb is the company’s Chief Strategy Officer, working remotely from Cleveland.

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"I just did a focus group with small businesses on the southeast side of the city and most of them don't have Facebook pages," said Bibb. "We have to bring the tech to them."

Bibb says Ohio is a great testing ground for the work Urbanova does because there are so many cities of various sizes to work with across the state.

“[Ohio is] small enough where we can experiment and think big but large enough where if you have an impact with a really great idea, you can see a lot of change and be a model or the nation,” said Bibb.

But that blessing can also be a curse. Unlike states like Illinois or Minnesota which have one dominant metropolitan center, Ohio’s cities are relatively spread out.

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"By creating this new awareness of what companies are out there, what ideas are out there, we can increase opportunity and hopefully move Ohio forward through opportunity and innovation," said Berry.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations with people in Cincinnati, Dayton, or Columbus and I’ll mention something in Cleveland and they didn’t know that was going on,” said Berry.

That’s where OhioX’s Tech Tour comes in.

What was intended to be a barnstorming set of conferences in cities across the state is online, starting with Cleveland-centric companies. Over the rest of the summer, OhioX hopes it can make connections between tech companies across the state.

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The speakers for Cleveland's Tech Tour on July 8th.

See News 5’s previous coverage of Cleveland-based Proformex here. CEO Kristie Beck will be part of the OhioX’s Tech Tour speakers Wednesday.

“By creating new awareness of what companies are out there, what ideas are out there, we can increase opportunity and hopefully move Ohio forward through opportunity and innovation,” said Berry.

But it’s also about bringing new and different people to the table.

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While the United States is having frank conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement, Bibb says the tech industry needs to be more aware of how communities of color are often not included.

“As an African-American leader in the tech sector, I’m in very few rooms with other people that look like me,” said Bibb. “I’m in very few zoom calls with people that look like me.”

Bibb says it works both ways. Since people of color play such a relatively small role in many tech companies, tech often plays a relatively small role in their lives, too.

“I just did a focus group with small businesses on the southeast side of the city and most of them don’t even have Facebook pages,” said Bibb. “So we have to bring tech to them.”

When that happens, Bibb says both the tech industry and communities of color can benefit.

“I think by being intentional up front, you can eradicate the structural racism that exists in technology across the country and particularly in Ohio,” said Bibb.

If you want to sign up for the OhioX Tech Tour, click here.

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