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Tech contest aims to make Racine into Invention City again

Tech contest aims to make Racine into Invention City again

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Jeff Daniel speaks to the audience at the launch party for Tech-Prize, a 12-day event coming to Racine this summer and focusing on technology and innovation. The introductory event, held Thursday evening above Uncorkt, 240 Main St., drew more than 100 people.

RACINE — A new initiative called Tech-Prize aims for nothing less than to bring back to Racine bragging rights as “Invention City” and make it a burgeoning hub for new entrepreneurship.

Tech-Prize, a wide-ranging event being planned by Visioning of Greater Racine, was introduced Thursday evening to more than 100 people at a launch party above Uncorkt, 240 Main St. Tech-Prize is the brainchild of VGR’s Thriving Economy Work, Action, Vision and Engagement Team, formed just under two years ago.

Tech-Prize will stretch over 12 days this summer, July 30-Aug. 10. It will feature numerous competitions, public and private voting for the best ideas, workshops and community events. There will be idea competitions for students as young as third grade.

“The goal of the Tech-Prize events (is) to enable a thriving economy in Racine giving resources to the local community and giving opportunities to turn ideas into reality,” stated a program description. “Racine has a long history of innovation, and we want that history to return making Racine Innovation City once again.”

Tech-Prize is modeled on Artprize, a successful 19-day competition held in Grand Rapids, Mich., that draws 30,000 visitors daily and an estimated $30,000. The goal of Tech-Prize organizers is to draw 5,000 visitors each day and generate $3.5 million for the city.

“The potential of Tech-Prize is vast,” said Ray Koukari, Dean of Gateway Technical College’s School of Manufacturing, Engineering, and Information Technology.

“As this event gets bigger each year, more people will want to come to Racine and be a part of the excitement of a growing technology-driven community,” he said. “Word has gotten around that we are the next ‘Chattanooga,’ we won the Smart City competition, companies are moving here, and professional talent is needed to sustain them. Gateway Technical College and UW-Parkside are delivering on programs needed by these businesses; however, we can’t fulfill the numbers needed.

“That is where Tech-Prize comes in, and with families visiting Racine, learning about our great beach, learning about our gaming opportunities, learning about our educational programs, it will bring these entrepreneurial pioneers to Racine and make it a place where you want to live, work and play.”

Jeff Daniel, most recently of Johnson Controls and who heads up sponsorships for Tech-Prize, said: “Existing business groups will invest to grow, and new groups will then come here because we have those skills in place and are ready to put them to work.”

Seven tracks

Daniel said Tech-Prize will build over time toward creating a thriving Racine-area economy: “As it builds, we would expect to have significant impact on graduation rates, unemployment, the kinds of industries available to work in, average wages going greatly up and tax revenue growing for the community.”

Tech-Prize will have seven tracks:

Biz-Shops, consisting of workshops and presentations for business start-ups, from Aug. 1-8 in Downtown Racine. Topics will include intellectual property, financing, business plans and pitches and opportunity zones;

Ideas, a competition for the duration of Tech-Prize in Downtown Racine. Participants can range from third grade through university, and there will also be an open class. Judging will be both public and juried with prizes of cash, investment and jobs/internships’

Esports, as team competitions on Aug. 3 and 4 at Not Your Parents Basement gaming lounge, 410 Main St. It will offer prizes of cash, scholarships and internships;

Coding, a team competition on Aug. 5 and 6 at Gateway Technical College to create the best app for a smart city need. Judging will be juried, and cash, scholarships and jobs/internships will be offered as prizes;

Pitch, in which groups or individuals will present ideas ready for investor participation, at Gateway on Aug. 7 and 8. Venture capitalists will listen to pitches which could then lead to investment and mentoring. This competition does require submission and preapproval;

Tech-shops, educational workshops about technology. These will be held in Downtown Racine Aug. 1-8 and be open to youths and adults. Topics will include coding, the innovation process, automation and skills for tomorrow; and

Community events: 12 days of free, family-friendly activities focused on technology, to celebrate Racine’s spirit of innovation. Activities will be held in Downtown and around the community.

“The Tech-Prize process is designed to launch in a scaled fashion,” Daniel said. “We are not looking to boil the ocean’ immediately. We want to walk into this in a way that everyone can see the benefit, see how they can participate, and get involved because they want to make our community great and become energized to make improvements … the immediate focus is to leverage the Smart Cities initiatives.”

More expectations

Uncorkt owner Tony Bigonia, who oversees Tech-Prize, said Friday: “In the near term it will get youth involved in coming up with innovations for Racine and for the world. They have got ideas, and we want to give them the tools to bring them forward.”

He predicted it will bring innovators to Racine to build their inventions here and help companies find new talent.

Local businessman, software developer and entrepreneur Rick Onyon said Tech-Prize “should be viewed as the beginning of a marathon (not a sprint), in that we will need to continue investing in education, hands-on programs and awareness each year ongoing.

“It’s difficult to predict the impact in the short term — but we believe that in time the positive impact could be a total game-changer for the community, bringing innovation (invention) back to Racine together with new businesses and higher-paying jobs. We just need a few sparks to take hold.”

“The potential of Tech-Prize is vast.” Ray Koukari, Dean of Gateway Technical College’s School of Manufacturing, Engineering, and Information Technology

“The potential of Tech-Prize is vast.”

Ray Koukari, Dean of Gateway Technical College’s School of Manufacturing, Engineering, and Information Technology


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Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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