Polished and poised, Amanda Signorelli is one part executive and two parts storyteller.
As CEO of Techweek, Signorelli leads a team whose mission is to highlight and catalyze innovation hubs outside Silicon Valley. Much like Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Signorelli’s organization is trumpeting the message that a vibrant tech community isn’t exclusive to trendy, Bay Area neighborhoods.
A 2013 graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, Signorelli is no stranger to the area, though she’s been surprised by Kansas City’s voracious appetite for Techweek’s brand of innovation. In only one year, Kansas City has become Techweek’s second-most engaged market with an anticipated 7,000 attendees in 2016, topping New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas.
As Techweek gears up for its second-annual festival in Kansas City — set for Sept. 12 – 18 — Startland News sat down with Signorelli to learn more about the 25-year-old’s mission-driven ethos.
Where’s your hometown?
I was born and raised in Las Vegas, which is an odd fact that when people discover it, they follow up with “Do people even live there?” I spent my life growing up on the strip. My father owns a steakhouse there, which is how I started getting into business by helping him run that.
What inspired your study of French and Arabic?
While helping (my father) run the steakhouse, I was exposed to a very cosmopolitan city, and many of our customers were French, so I started taking it in high school. I traveled to Paris, where I got caught in the middle of a riot. The person who helped me when I fell down and was almost stampeded was a woman dressed in a hijab. I wanted to thank her, but couldn’t understand what she was saying and she couldn’t communicate to me. I was floored when I saw the press coverage afterward — everything was saying “how dare these Muslims” — when those were the people who helped me. … I was so frustrated by this that I decided to take Arabic at my high school and proceeded to take it for the next four years in college.
What was it like growing up in an entrepreneurial household?
I grew up with two paradigms. One is with my father, who is very much by the world. He’s had a plethora of experiences, including building a casino, IPOed it, sold it and then went to run the restaurant and a handful of other companies. My mother is very much “save the world.” She’s 64 and just came back from Moldova where she was teaching English in the Peace Corps. Both of them are entrepreneurs in their own right. My mother was one of the founding editors and contributors to the Early Childhood Education Act.
If you weren’t the CEO of Techweek, what would you be doing?
I’m very passionate about big data as it pertains to the healthcare space. As someone who has personally had quite a few medical issues, what I cannot find more frustrating is how difficult it is to navigate the healthcare system and own your own data. What I’d love to do is to not only be able to democratize access to health care data, but also create an effective way to visualize it and create more understanding for the consumer.
Techweek’s mission is to globally spread tech entrepreneurship to create a better world. How do you accomplish that?
Curated serendipity is the phrase that we typically use. And the premise is that if you bring together tech leaders, entrepreneurs, those that are on the product side and those that are on the business side, they may actually have an opportunity to connect. You may have people who find their co-founder, find a potential investor or find the next person who builds their platform. One of my favorite anecdotes that empirically shows what this means was in L.A. We had one entrepreneur raise $1 million who was competing in our launch competition and that was from a connection that they had to the Techweek community.
Why is Techweek in so-called “second-tier” tech cities like Kansas City?
More often than not in these markets you see all of this innovation and advancements from a technological perspective, but very rarely see the story behind it — unless it’s coming from Silicon Valley or San Francisco. Mainstream media, as I like to say, has become myopically focused on just those stories and completely ignores what’s happening in all these other markets, because, in their minds, they’re second-tier. For us, we’ve now taken it upon ourselves to step up and say we completely disagree with that. We take a contrarian viewpoint that the most amount of growth is actually going to come from markets like Kansas City.