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Connecting a Community

By Beth Kuchar — November 4, 2016

How do you bring together a city of 140,000 people in just one week? One event at a time.

For the past three years, during one week in October, Innovate Pasadena has been bringing together people, institutions, and companies across Pasadena and Greater Los Angeles — during one crazy, action-packed week — to discover, share, and grow. I’d like to share a little bit about our success.

We first thought up Connect as a way to consolidate all of our efforts each year and really showcase all the activity that was happening in Pasadena — we had no idea how fast it would grow!

Taking Connect Week from a Few Events to a Packed Schedule

In January 2014, we batted around the idea of creating our own innovation week. But for a group of unpaid volunteers with limited free time to commit, it seemed a bit over ambitious. We decided to do a test run: stage one weekend of events to see if there was an interest from within the community for a larger innovation series. Connect Weekend would become our litmus test.

Over the next month, we reached out to a few local organizations and venue locations and planned an actual innovation weekend: 14 events over 4 days. With little time left over to actually promote the series, we were overwhelmed to see just how many people actually showed up to attend our quickly-structured weekend celebration; it definitely showed us that there was demand for our innovation series. We made a list of things that needed to be improved and started planning our full innovation week for that same year.

Since 2014, each October has been dedicated to planning and promoting Connect Week. Though it’s still pulled off almost exclusively by volunteers, we keep taking the new lessons we’ve learned from the previous year and put them into practice. Our efforts to keep improving show: each year brings in more attendees, more events, more venues around the city, and more partners helping to produce it all. In fact, our attendance grew 212% from 2014 to 2015, and we’ve seen a 385% increase in events from 2014 to 2016!

We’ve Set Our Sights Even Higher

During the time we’ve been running Connect Week, we have also grown into a larger group of volunteers — with a more traditional structure of elected officers and board members — all donating our time to the cause. Overall, Innovate Pasadena has reached more than 25,000 people and counting (2016 attendance numbers are still coming in!) through Connect Week. With this festival of events, we’ve helped to strengthen Pasadena’s innovation community through education and resource exchange. It has even enabled us to keep our focus on enabling our community to connect.

With such great momentum, we are all motivated to work even harder next year, making new improvements to keep Connect Week growing, spreading, and more importantly, delivering even more value to our community. In fact, I think we’ve already had a glimpse into an expanding future for Connect: this year, for the first time, we were actively contacted by groups and organizations outside of Pasadena looking to participate in the series. Even though we’ve had a growing and sizable audience base from the greater Los Angeles area, I think that the increased interest from outside organizations indicates a brighter future ahead — that we’re growing beyond our own city limits to have an effect on our neighbors. That’s the power of Connect and Innovate Pasadena!

How Our Collaborators Have Benefitted

The even greater power of Connect lies with the many organizers and individuals who work to produce each event — Connect Week is built around these smart people who have the curiosity and drive to challenge the norm and share their experiences. Connect really works thanks to these many event producers, who we call “Collaborators”. These dedicated individuals represent entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, scientists, educators, designers, and students — and they all enthusiastically unite with us in a common goal to celebrate the creativity and ingenuity that’s right here in our own backyard.

In exchange, we work to provide Collaborators with the opportunity to build awareness, expand their membership, create new career or business opportunities, showcase innovative projects, or reach a larger professional audience. We want each of our Collaborators to get the most out of participating, so we act as the central hub for communication, branding, and coordination; providing assistance in identifying potential venues; and making introductions to other innovators and potential collaborators.

In fact, many of our Collaborators participate in Connect year after year, and our Connect Week community planning sessions grow exponentially each year. It really is a labor of love, especially for those who have stuck with us since the beginning, when they may not have had ideal support from us during those early days as they get today! It’s satisfying to hear from these die-hard supporters how they’ve watched us learn and evolve. Because of them, we will continue to work hard to make the resources accessible for all of us to continue to work to bring amazing events to the community.

A Look Back at #Connect16

Now that we’ve recovered from our 4th installment of Connect Week, we wanted to share how we’ve grown leaps and bounds since our first festival — from 14 events in 2014 to nearly 70 independently organized events which took place all around the city of Pasadena during #Connect16. When you break it down, that’s quite a feat!

It’s been an amazing experience to watch this effort spread each year. On a personal level, I was initially concerned that with so many events on our schedule, we wouldn’t be able to give each Collaborator the personal attention and promotion that they deserved so they could focus on delivering a quality experience to their attendees. But in the end, we and our volunteers made the time to pitch in and support each Collaborator. With so many unique events, our Innovate Pasadena team was enthusiastic in finding ways to promote them all!

Looking back at each event I can see that the quality was extremely high and each group brought something unique and interesting to our community. I know that on our side, I can feel good that we did our best to help each Collaborator have a fun and gratifying experience so that they join us again next year.

While our results have been impressive, and we clearly have a great many talented and dedicated individuals here in Pasadena, the truth is that it takes committed people and a network of great businesses and academic institutions that are willing to put in the work to transform our great city into a hub where businesses, academia, and the broader community can network and collaborate. Connect may happen just once a year, but that one week has effects that extend all year long. We keep working on new programs and outreach all year long, because the connecting doesn’t stop when Connect Week ends!

Now I’d like to share with you just a few of the things that were accomplished during Connect Week — after all, it’s not just about the journey, it’s the destination! Below are just some of the highlights from this year’s #Connect16.

Our early numbers are still coming in, but so far:

During the 8-day festival we coordinated 68 events with over 60 partners. Numbers are still coming in from our partners, but so far we’ve tallied at least 10,000 attendees!
  • Innovate Pasadena produced the Big Bang Block Party to commemorate Big Bang Theory Way, a Pasadena street honoring our namesake TV show — producers from The Big Bang Theory even joined us to help with the unveiling! Over 400 people including Connect Collaborators, local businesses, our partners, and the larger community got together for one evening of mingling and fun.
  • Local group STEAM:CODERS held a series of events for kids in grades 2–8, introducing boys and girls from underserved neighborhoods to programming, robotics, game design, and more!
  • Pasadena declared itself the City of Astronomy, and a group of individuals from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, Carnegie Observatories, and others held over 10 events focused on astronomy.
  • Volunteers from Girl Develop It! organized Website Weekend LA, which developed free websites for 16 local nonprofits.
  • Rails Girls LA introduced women and girls of all ages to Ruby on Rails, a web app framework run on Ruby, through one-on-one mentoring by local tech employees.
  • Cross Campus’ Pasadena co-work location hosted 11 events during the week, including panels, workshops, speaker series, and mixers.
  • Techsparks gave locals a peek behind the scenes at several local tech companies and startups with their annual Tech Crawl.
  • General Assembly offered four free events and classes on topics from using improv in business to branding to startup life and women in tech.
  • Everyone from grade school students to retired JPL scientists visited the Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative (PBC), a non-profit biotech incubator, to take a look inside their new expanded facilities.
  • In addition to hosting a ton of events during Connect, local maker collective Supplyframe DesignLab invited the public to learn more about 3D printing and CNC fabrication through free half-day classes.
  • Numerous other groups (there are too many to mention here, seriously!) shared their knowledge on topics from venture capital, product design, user experience, entrepreneurship, nanotechnology, and so much more!

Interested in more info on Connect Week? We’re still crunching the data, but we’ll publish the results in a special report on the Connect website soon.

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