From Powder Keg to Silicon Valley

As Indy prepares to pitch for Super Bowl 2018, it seems fitting to reflect on the Powder Keg Startup Bowl of 2012. Just 18 months ago Marc Kleinman and I took the stage at the inaugural PowderKeg to pitch Diagnotes, a health IT venture based in Indianapolis.

diagnotes at powder keg
Please vote here to support Diagnotes, an Indiana HIT venture!

Verge put together a great event, with the Startup Bowl just one of many awesome activities that gained national attention. We joined 10 other finalists in a competition fitting the location, Lucas Oil Stadium.

It was an honor to share the stage with up and coming entrepreneurs like Max Yoder of and Santiago Jaramillo of BlueBridge Digital, ventures that have themselves gone on to accomplish great things. While billed as a competition, from a great MC in Pete the Planner to an outstanding judge panel the event truly reflected the passion and cooperative spirit that embodies the Indiana venture community. Of course, it was even more special to me personally given that my daughter Lindsey, a new addition to the local venture scene after graduating from Rose-Hulman in 2012, helped organize (and write about) the event.

Diagnotes Pitches at Powder Keg

The Startup Bowl marked a key transition for Diagnotes. For over two years technical founder Bharath Bynagari had led development of the core technology in conjunction with partner Community Health Network to sow the seeds of what is now Diagnotes. Following a successful pilot project, we were able to lure Dave Wortman, serial entrepreneur and longtime IT visionary, to lead Diagnotes startup team as CEO in the transition from a cool project to a high-potential venture.

We engaged DeveloperTown as a partner to develop a kick-ass interface and a scalable technology platform.  Marc joined the team, and we enjoyed a series of wins in 2012 including the Hoosier Healthcare Innovation Challenge and Biocrossroads venture competition. All the accolades culminated in raising over $1.5 million in funding in 2013, allowing Diagnotes to build a team and begin to scale. In 2014, Diagnotes has a core group of paying customers with hundreds of doctors using the system.

Today, Diagnotes is a finalist in a global venture competition called Launch: Silicon Valley World Cup Tech Challenge being held on May 20 at Microsoft’s campus in Mountain View, CAWe are neck-in- neck with an Israeli venture in the HealthTech category as well as several other strong contenders. 

Please follow this link to vote: You can vote on every device you own, so don’t be shy!

This competition in and of itself won’t create further success for Diagnotes—but just as  being a finalist in the Startup Bowl, it could be another key milestone in a journey bringing national recognition, jobs, and investor returns to the Indiana venture scene. You can view some of the original pitch in an Indianapolis Business Journal article here.

Thanks for your help and support! And please plan to join the next pitch fest at the Innovation Showcase in July (see

How to Get the Most out of This Month’s Tech Conferences

Tech Conference GuideThere you are, sitting by yourself with a stale poppy seed bagel and kid-sized cup of conference coffee. The first presenter is only five minutes into their presentation, and they’re already reading from their slides.

We’ve all been there–trapped at a bad conference. Maybe it looked good on paper, or maybe someone you respect recommended it to you. But you’re there, and your work is back at the office where it will stay until you can escape.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Yes, conferences can stink. But the good ones–the really good ones–can shift the trajectory of your business and personal growth. You just have to know where to look and how to get the most out of the experience.

Below are some of the best startup conferences this month and how you can participate (even if you’re not attending). At the end of the article, I’ve included some strategies for how to get the most out of any event you decide to invest in.



Based out of Portland, Oregon, TechFestNW is the little sister conference to MusicFestNW. Despite being a fledgeling conference, only in its second year, TechFestNW is quickly becoming a hot conference to watch. Featuring great speakers, compelling topics, and bumping after parties, the schedule at TechFestNW can compete with anyone in the nation. What really sets this conference apart, however, is their last day.

The most unique aspect of the TechFest lineup is also the most attractive. On their final day, they are hosting the “PDXDrones Challenge.” First, at 11, a team of experts will take a hodge-podge of disparate parts and put together a fully functional, completely flyable drone in under an hour. At 1, they’ll be bringing PDX’s best drone pilots together in the “drone cage” to battle head to head in an obstacle course.

If you’re interested in robotics, startups, or just want to party with the north west’s best and brightest, you have to make it to TechFestNW 2013, September 6-8.

Top Speakers

Alan Webber

Co-Founder of Fast Company, Editorial Director of the Harvard Business Review, and author of Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self, Webber’s wealth of knowledge is invaluable to business leaders everywhere. He will be giving the Saturday evening keynote entitled “Creating the Next Version of Portland.”

This keynote is a very apt topic for Webber. While many recognize his work in the business world, few realize that he has been extremely active politically at the local, state, and national level, fighting for Portland every step of the way. His passion and vision for the city will make this a must-see keynote for all Oregonians in attendance.

Alan Schaaf

As the founder and CEO of, Schaaf’s name and reputation are easily recognizable to many in the tech world. As the founder of one of the largest (and certainly the easiest) image sharing services in the world, he brings an heir of techie-ism to TechFestNW, but his biggest contribution to the festival comes in his knowledge of the startup space.

Giving the Sunday keynote address, “Pros and Cons of Bootstrapping: Imgur’s Experience,” Schaaf will be touching on his experience starting a company from his dorm room. As an organization who takes bootstrapping seriously, this talk stood out to us. While there is a sexy side to the tech end of Imgur, the less sexy side will prove to be far more beneficial for budding northwest entrepreneurs looking to learn from the conference. If you’re starting a business, you’re going to want to take good notes during this keynote.

Saul Colt

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Saul Colt is by far the most interesting speaker in the TechFestNW lineup. He was recently named as one of the iMEDIA 25: Internet Marketing Leaders & Innovators and is the “Head of Magic” at SAUL! The Idea Integration Company. He has an extensive bio, featuring many different endeavors, but today he finds himself specializing in Social Media, Customer Service, Community Building and Word of Mouth Marketing.

Colt will be featured during the Saturday morning speaking sessions, giving a talk entitled “Insights from the Smartest Man in the World.” While I can’t attest to that claim, I can definitively say that his presentation is bound to be one of the most entertaining of the conference and a must see for those interested in online influence and marketing.

Social Media Buzz

First and foremost, whether you can attend or not, this is a great list to follow.

Disrupt SF


The Disrupt conference is put on by TechCrunch and is the leading conference in the world for tech startups. This year’s DisruptSF Conference is being held from September 7th to the 11th and features the staples that made Disrupt famous. From an all night hackathon to the Startup Battlefield, where tech entrepreneurs from all over the world will compete for the Disrupt Cup, this event is sure to be a great experience for everyone in attendance.

Top Speakers

Jeff Weiner

As the CEO of LinkedIn, Weiner is responsible for much of the growth that the professional network has experienced over the last five years. In addition to LinkedIn, Jeff serves on the board of directors for Intuit Inc., and Malaria No More. Jeff will be doing a fireside chat at noon on Monday which will be extremely beneficial for anyone looking to learn about leadership and growth.

Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff is the founder and CEO of and is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of cloud computing. From groundbreaking idea to publicly traded company, Salesforce has become one of the most popular and influential companies in B2B software. Benioff’s knowledge, vision, and influence are invaluable, and his fireside chat at Disrupt will be one of the most informative presentations given all month.

He will be doing a fireside on Tuesday at 10:45. You won’t want to miss it.

Dick Costolo

Costolo has been the CEO of Twitter since 2010 and has been instrumental in the network’s growth. Before Twitter, Costolo was co-founder and CEO of FeedBurner, a digital content syndication platform that was acquired by Google in 2007.

He will be giving a presentation Monday at 12:20, immediately following the fireside chat with Jeff Weiner, entitled “How To Lead,” Making the noon hour on Monday an irresistable time slot for attendees.

Social Media Buzz

As a leading conference in the tech space, there is bound to be a ton of activity on Twitter surrounding this year’s event. Here’s some of the activity we’ve seen for #DisruptSF.



Named best Convention in America by the American Business Awards, the Connections conference put on by ExactTarget is not one to miss. Located in Indianapolis, Indiana, Connections is one of the largest gatherings of marketers in the world. This conference focuses on the intersection of marketing and technology, a niche that Indianapolis has cornered extremely well.

In addition to the top-shelf keynotes, “Cloud Crawl,” ExactTarget Academy, and music festival at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the 2012 Super Bowl), a new feature of this year will be the M-TECH Conference happening in conjunction with the final day of Connections. This conference, put on by Techpoint for marketing technology users, buyers, producers and investors, will backup the growing consensus that Indianapolis, with innovators like Exact Target, iGoDigital, Tinderbox, Angie’s List and more, is the marketing tech capital of the world.

Top Speakers

Jim Collins

Tuesday’s 2:30 keynote is brought to you by Jim Collins, author of New York Times bestsellers Good to Great and Built to Last. His presentations are built to challenge with a practical blueprint for sustaining enduring growth and sustained superior performance. Collins has a passion for understanding and advising how companies grow, perform, and become great.

As someone who has served as a teacher to senior executives and CEOs at over a hundred corporations, Collins’ keynote definitely ranks as one of the best talks for executives of any company to see this month.

Walter Isaacson

Isaacson previously served as Chairman and CEO of CNN and Editor of TIME magazine. Additionally, he has authored five biographies including Steve Jobs. Today, Isaacson is the President and CEO of Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization.

As one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012, Walter Isaacson is sure to generate a lot of buzz. His keynote on Tuesday at 4:45 is a must hit for anyone attending the conference.

Condoleeza Rice

Thursday’s keynote speaker needs no introduction, but that’s never stopped us before. Condoleeza Rice is known as one of the most knowledgeable women in the world in the realm of politics and foreign relations. Rice served as the 66th United States Secretary of State (2005-2009) and National Security Advisor (2001-2005).

Today, Rice is the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and is a founding partner of RiceHandleyGates LLC., an international strategic consulting firm. Her keynote address at noon on Thursday is the headlining event of this year’s Connections conference and a great way to close an event.

Social Media Buzz

As the “Marketing Tech Capital of the World,” Indianapolis will be abuzz with social content for Connections. Here’s some of the early buzz surrounding #ET13


Tech Conference Tips and Tricks

As you lace up for these or other conferences, take it a step further and learn the basic moves of the the startup event dance:

  • Know what you want to get out of attending an event. Hell, I’ll take it a step further and say that you should go Tony Robbins on it and write your goals down ahead of time.
  • Find the people who can help get your business where you want it to be. Twitter is great for this and you should use lists and hashtags to organize your connecting. Pair up this effort with another conference tools like an attendee directory or Lanyrd and you’ll start to feel like a conference Jedi. Just make sure you put others first. Figure out what makes them tick, what they do, and how you might be able to help.
  • Schedule your time. If you already know people who are going to be there, set up a meeting in advance. Find the can’t-miss sessions and lock them in on your calendar. But don’t over schedule yourself. Give yourself room to absorb what’s going on and to allow serendipity to run its course.
  • Get out there and keep getting better. Getting the most value from a conference takes some attention to detail, but you’ll improve with practice. So don’t just stand there, bust a move.

A Thank You to the People Who Built the Powder Keg

Last month, I was in the middle of one of the biggest project of my life. And if not for a few remarkable people, I’m not sure I’d be here now on other side.

I can still put myself in that moment…

I hit send on an email response #247 of the evening as I glimpse the hour on the clock tick past 3:00 AM. I swear I distinctly heard that “tick.” Less than two weeks out from the first day of the Powder Keg; conference for startups I had announced just 2 months earlier.

Powder Keg Logo

Our team had built impressive momentum including early Powder Keg press coverage, hundreds of new email subscribers, and six figures in new sponsorships. Yet there are months of work to complete (in a two-week period) before the first day of our three-day event that was to fill more than six venues.

In moments like these, doubt can start to creep in.

Lucky for me, I had something bigger than myself as the driving force. That’s why I have something important to say to the people who helped us build this first year of the Powder Keg:

Thank you.

You showed me we could do it. Then you helped find a way for us to create it together.

Powder Keg Presenters

You helped build the vision.

Thousands of Verge members raised their hands and said we should build something like the Powder Keg in Indianapolis. The emails, tweets, and comments built the scaffolding of Indiana’s first national startup conference.

Other regional startup conferences like The Combine, Chicago Tech Week, and Big Omaha inspired the Powder Keg experience. They showed us how we could develop our own voice and plant our own flag. Industry thought leaders, like best-selling author and Powder Keg presenter Julien Smith, helped us refine our vision into something with a platform that could be articulated.

You lay the foundation.

Exact Target is one of Indy’s most successful software companies and they are the leader in the email marketing space. They are also fire starters who still flex their entrepreneurial muscle by supporting grass-roots efforts like the Powder Keg.

Scott Dorsey at Powder Keg 2012

With the help of Exact Target CMO Tim Kopp and Vice President Mike Fitzgerald, we were able to bridge the gap between an established enterprise company and the startup community growing nationwide. Exact Target Marketing Director Amanda Leet and Senior Director Scott Roth collaborated with the Powder Keg to integrate our entrepreneurial energy into their global user conference, Connections.

Support came all the way from the top, with Exact Target founders Scott Dorsey and Chris Baggott, who candidly shared their entrepreneurial insight on the final day of the Powder Keg. They helped engage the regional software community to rally around our startup movement in a way that was nothing short of magical.

Powder Keg Startup Bowl Judges

You showed that you care.

I was blown away. We had a legion of people who stepped forward to enroll in the Powder Keg experience as volunteers. These teammates built the Powder Keg brick by brick and their fingerprints are all over the best parts of the event.

Early support from sponsors like Ice Miller, Compendium, and Barnes and Thornburg poured fuel on the fire. Meeting requests and phone calls to discuss Powder Keg with these organizations were met with, “How can I help?”

Dozens of other local organizations, who consistently breathe life into the startup community, came out to support the Powder Keg. People supported through sponsorship, PR, media production, venue location, event management, and event experiences like Wi-Fi, food and beverage, and photo booths. That’s how people knew that the Powder Keg was going to be exceptional.

Within 24 hours of announcing the event, we had more than 500 people sign up for updates through the email list. The social networks exploded with conversation from Verge members and friends of our group. This momentum built into incredible movement.

Powder Keg Performer Kishi Bashi

You brought it to life.

We found our name and defined the Powder Keg look thanks to KA+A, one of the best brand design agencies in the world. I put KA+A president Kristian Andersen on speed dial for brand discussions and event input. This must have driven Kristian nuts, but the hundreds of founders, builders, and investors who attended the Powder Keg experienced the impact of those conversations.

Local web design and marketing agency, SmallBox, helped build and maintain the Powder Keg website and get the word out about the event. Founder Jeb Banner went out of his way to support the event through shared resources, personal invitations, and dozens of other moments of assistance.

Without this strong local support, Powder Keg would have never made the connections to our national partners like Startup America, the YEC, Microsoft, Tech Cocktail, Fortify VC, Tech Zulu, and App Developers Alliance. They erected the platform from which Powder Keg participants could work their magic.

Powder Keg Startup Bowl Pitch

You shared the experience.

We had 12 startups bring their A-game to the Startup Bowl pitch competition at Lucas Oil Stadium. Their skill and ambition engaged our judges from Navidar, Microsoft, Elevate Ventures, and Fortify VC. Investors and other attendees in the audience gave their time and attention to get a taste of what is growing out of the Midwest startup scene.

By showing up with energy, ideas, and questions, attendees and participants set the tone for the Powder Keg. Even now, you still share the follow up articles and news. You fanned the flame as the stories came out in Forbes, the Indy Star, IBJ, Tech Cocktail, Tech Zulu and other blogs.

Powder Keg David Blaine

I hope that you enjoyed Powder Keg as much as I did. And if you couldn’t make it this year, I hope that you’ll be able to join us for some of the magic in the future.

Without you we couldn’t have done it. So, I’d love to know what you liked and, even more, what you’d like to see if we do another Powder Keg event next year.


The Magic Inside the Powder Keg

With so many variables, we could have never predicted that the Powder Keg conference would turn out the way it did.

You welcomed our speakers with enthusiasm and our Midwest hospitality. From national superstars like David Blaine and Julien Smith, to our local heroes like Chris Baggott and Scott Dorsey, your energy filled each venue with enthusiastic curiosity and passion.

You connected in person and online. Hundreds downloaded the Powder Keg iphone app and chatted in our private Bonfyre network. The questions and comments were just as good in person as they were in our thousands of #PowderKeg hashtag uses.

You supported through sponsorship and by showing up. We had over 350 attendees and more than 30 organizations sign on to support this inaugural year. Just take a look at everyone who turned out:

Scott Dorsey at Power Keg

Headline Sponsor

ExactTarget collaborated with us through a tight partnership with Connections, allowing our whole Powder Keg crew to bring our passion to the JW Marriott for the first half day of our conference. We caught presentations from leaders at LinkedIn, Foursquare and reddit, and David Blaine come into our section to perform magic for our Powder Keg crew.

ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey and Startup America CEO Scott Case lit the Powder Keg fuse in front of all 4,ooo Connections attendees during the Entrepreneurs Unleashed panel. Our section at Connections erupted when they called us out and invited the rest of Connections to join us at Lucas Oil Stadium for our Startup Bowl.

Premier Sponsors

  • Kishi Bashi at Powder KegIce Miller threw an awesome welcome party that filled the first floor of Sensu Nightclub. Sensu owner Jeffrey Mark welcomed our Powder Keg group with Ice Miller partner, Dustin Dubois.
  • Barnes and Thornburg hosted our second party at the Crane Bay. It was an intimate evening in the perfect venue with an inspiring performance by Kishi Bashi, introduced by Barnes and Thornburg partner David Wong.
  • SmallBox built and designed our killer fully-responsive Powder Keg website. Their whole team supported the Powder Keg initiative through promotion, volunteer efforts, and strategic leadership on our Powder Keg core team.
  • KA+A designed our brand and sponsorship information while providing strategic input on the conference throughout the entire planning process. These long-time friends helped us hone our vision and find our voice as a Midwest movement.
  • Compendium closed down the Powder Keg right with an awesome celebration at the Speak Easy and DeveloperTown. Action Jackson spun awesome tunes while Powder Keg attendees grabbed fresh brew from Upland, hot coney dogs from Dog ‘n’ Suds, and awesome West Coast Tacos.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of our sponsorship support and we’ll tell you more about our other sponsors in future Powder Keg posts. You can see many of them here.

Our volunteer team was massive and deserves all the credit for making this two-and-a-half day conference possible. With the support from our sponsors, they were able to create our magical Powder Keg experience. It was an experience and feeling that’s hard to describe.

But keynote speaker Scott Dorsey put it best in his #powderkeg tweet following his time on stage. Powder Keg was an “Inspirational group of entrepreneurs.” And we’re looking forward to channeling that inspiration into what comes next with Verge.

What were your favorite Powder Keg moments? Which videos and photos are you most excited to see?