Techweek hires new CEO after last year’s ‘sexist’ misstep

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Katy Lynch, who founded her own social-media marketing firm, SocialKaty, is Techweek Chicago’s new CEO. | Provided photo

After Techweek Chicago drew outrage last June for a charity invitation deemed sexist and offensive, the event organizer has hired a female CEO: Katy Lynch, who founded her own social-media marketing firm, SocialKaty.

Lynch’s hiring, to be announced on Monday, was one of several recommendations made by a Techweek ombudsman who scolded the firm, saying it needed a stronger and more inclusive leadership team. The controversial ad last year promoted the charity event with photos of two young women in top hats and form-fitting outfits.

Lynch, 30, a River North resident who sold her firm last year to design agency Manifest Digital, said Friday that she has no worries that Techweek Chicago will repeat its mistake, and she intends to stick with it.

“I’m in it for the long run,” said Lynch, whose salary was not disclosed. She will report to a 56-member board of directors.

“TechWeek was incredibly pro-active, open and honest about what happened,” said Lynch, who grew up in Edinburgh and retains a Scottish accent. “They were quick to fix the problem, come up with a solution and worked with the community to ensure that something like that will not happen again.”

Techweek, which brought women in bikinis to its Fall 2013 fashion show, canceled the charity event last June and apologized for the “oversight.”

Lynch, who is involved in several Chicago women’s tech groups, said she intends to oversee expanding Techweek to more cities in the United States and internationally; enlarge a fund set up to invest in TechWeek’s startup competitions; expand the scope of the company’s startup competitions; and create a grand champion competition, a la Shark Tank.

Her goal is to broaden Techweek conferences, now held in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, New York, Los Angeles and Miami, to 100 cities, starting with Boston, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Toronto. The confab of tech developers, enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and angel investors started in Chicago in 2011 with 2,500 attendees. Last year, 12,000 attended in Chicago, organizers say.

This year’s event, slated for June 22-28 at the Merchandise Mart, will include a fashion show, focused on tech wearables, and will continue last year’s initiatives of inviting women “fellows” based on community nominations and recruiting startup “Techweek Launch” competitors from underrepresented groups, Lynch said.

She also aims to expand the event’s startup competitions to two days instead of one day and choose a national championship winner in Miami from among the regional winners.

Lynch’s husband, Craig Ulliott, is known in Chicago tech circles for co-founding customer loyalty network Belly. Lynch joked she is known among her friends as the “Chicago Angelina Jolie” because she wants to both have a child and adopt children so she can enjoy a large family like the one in which she grew up. Her mother had five siblings; her father has eight, so she grew up among a large extended family.

Techweek Executive Chairman Iain Shovlin said, “Katy was the outstanding candidate; she co-founded, quickly grew and successfully exited Chicago’s largest social media marketing agency — and all before her 30th birthday.”

Of her experience expanding SocialKaty to 60 clients and 25 employees in four years, Lynch said, “I learned to scale the company really quickly — where to hire and how to find the right people.”

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