The Inaugural Booth TechCon

Part 1: Big-Time Planning

by Shota Ido

On April 19th, The Booth Technology Group (BTG) held our first-ever Booth TechCon, a soon-to-be-annual student-led conference covering various topics from machine learning analytics and biomedical devices to IoT and autonomous vehicles.

First things first – why host a conference? When we assumed the roles as BTG co-chairs, our group wanted to change the perception of Chicago Booth from a “finance” school to one with strengths in technology as well (see this story on the PM Workshop for the kinds of programming we offered).

We believed the issue was about recognition and perception. The substance was here – Booth’s academic curriculum and approach to education fit a student pursuing a career in tech. Classes such as Platform Competition, Lab in Developing New Products and Services, and Digital and Algorithmic Marketing teach students the necessary conceptual knowledge through case studies from the tech industry (see other Booth courses relevant to tech here). Furthermore, the Chicago Approach – learning the core disciplines of accounting, economics, psychology, sociology, and statistics – helps students analyze and solve any type of problem, and this is critical especially in an industry such as technology, where trends and business environment change rapidly.  With so much already in place, we decided a flagship conference was an initiative that would effectively help Booth raise its tech profile.

The next step was figuring out how to turn our vision into a reality. Fortunately, we were able to gather and form an all-star Booth team with relevant past experiences to run the conference. Conference Co-Chairs Carolyn Chen and Miranda Zhao were the ultimate task masters, ensuring all work streams were on-schedule and within budget. In addition to managing all the day-of logistics of a conference with over 200 people, their team members raised funding, selected conference topics, secured prominent speakers, and marketed the event to Booth students, the broader UChicago community, and the general public.

With the best laid plans in place after months of preparation, we were ready to go.

Part 2: TechCon Arrives

by Brian Khorshad

Opening Keynote presented by James Phillips, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Business Applications Group.

On April 19th, we brought together over 200 attendees and 30+ speakers to dig into disrupting trends. The conference opened with a keynote address from James Phillips (‘97), Corporate Vice President of Microsoft. James, a Booth MBA, discussed how culture had been a key element of Microsoft’s success, and how their ability to pair it with innovation allowed them to keep growing after Microsoft stagnated in the early 2010s.

Following James’ address, we had several break-out panels with topics ranging from the Internet of Things to virtual and augmented reality. Annie Hu (’16), one of the Analytics panelists, shared how her non-traditional career path as a classical pianist brought her to Booth, and how her start-up, Omnee, uses physical sensors to track crowd experience. Zach Miller, Senior Data Scientist at Credit Ninja, shared advice encouraging Boothies to learn some coding (through courses such as Raghu Betina’s Application Development) so that they can draw meaningful insights and better guide the direction of their companies.

Panel discussion on Analytics. From left: Annie Hu of Omnee, Justin Massa of IDEO, Zach Miller of Credit Ninja, Luna Rhajbhandari of, and Arjun Venkataswamy of Digital Education Ventures.

At the Omnichannel Retail Panel, Emad Saghir, Director of Product Management at Grubhub, discussed how technologies, like online ordering, inform the physical flow of food, and how Grubhub used the data it collects to improve operational efficiency. Jordan Diab, CFO, COO and Board Member of e-commerce furniture company Interior Define, explained how his company relies on a mix of physical stores and an online presence to reach customers.

The closing keynote by John “JK” Kim (‘99), President of HomeAway, reminded attendees that in an age of increasing digitalization, maintaining our humanity is our primary asset. John emphasized that as the pace of change accelerates and our working world changes, humanization will propel success.

The conference couldn’t have closed with a better reminder of the importance of people. After working with a team of Boothies over the last several months, we’d had grown closer to this group who pulled off the massive inaugural event. We look forward to the day when our classmates return as keynote speakers for a future Booth TechCon!

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