Knowing that he could start something of his own in Columbus brought Matt Vojacek to the city. And now that he’s here, the entrepreneur is banding together the best creative minds of the Midwest to make a statement.
“Making Midwest is not a networking event, nor is it a conference — it is a declaration,” Vojacek says.
He wants to recognize the region for the creative force that it is.
“The Midwest is home to the most passionate and hardworking people in the country,” Vojacek says. “Making Midwest is our collective flag, planted – a proud showing of what we make, how we make it and why. And most importantly, our shared stories, as we grow and push each other to be the very best.”
To tell Vojacek’s story and the rise of Making Midwest is to see the Columbus’s collaborative spirit and accessibility many entrepreneurs speak of time and time again in action.
The entrepreneur is an Ohio native, growing up in Cleveland before heading to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh for media arts and animation. He stayed in Pittsburgh post-graduation to work for the department of energy. After the novelty of finally getting paid for his creative work wore off, Vojacek felt a slight tinge of jealousy towards the classmates that had packed it up and headed for the coast after school.
A trip to LA to see some of those friends led to an ambush interview and a promise of two weeks of work. Two weeks turned into three years and Vojacek had the chance to build his portfolio working on visual effects and motion graphics for commercials that ran during the Super Bowl to hit TV shows like Parks & Rec and Brooklyn 99.
“Whenever I came out to Los Angeles it was always meant to be a temporary type of thing,” Vojacek says. “Then my plan was to just move somewhere back east closer to family.”
The birth of his first son put the move in motion. Chicago, Raleigh, New York and Columbus emerged as the front runners. New York got the axe because it was a different coast with more of the same, but the idea of Columbus had always been around.
“One of the things that needed to happen was I wanted to start my own company in one of these cities I was going to go to,” Vojacek says. “That’s why I landed on Columbus.”
He’s getting ready to celebrate two years in the city and did just what he aimed for, launching his own motion design and animation studio Zwelly for small- and medium-sized businesses to help them tell their stories. He’s also learned much about the city’s collaborative spirit along the way.
Vojacek had a personal goal to meet with as many creatives as possible in 2015. The goal was 12, which he nearly tripled making about 35 connections for the year. He started connecting the connection, trying to bring groups together. When a dinner party convo with some of these creative connections turned to business they realized, “We still have a lot to learn together,” Vojacek says.
They were discussing the legality around contracts, something none of them were experts in, and landed on the idea of creating an event where each could ask their questions. Though it wasn’t called it at the time, the first Making Midwest was born. The next meetup evolved to a slightly bigger affair with creatives discussing issues like how much to charge.
Round three would add more structure, this time with three speakers giving a short presentation followed by audience questions. The format was a hit and momentum really started to build after the fourth event in August of 2015.
“That was kind of the turning point,” Vojacek says. “Now we have something that we can really build on.”
Aimed at designers, illustrators, animators, video producers and the like, quarterly Making Midwest events bring in all sorts of creatives, and sometimes even some businesses that might be in competition with each other to really foster a discussion. The next event is slated for April 5 from 6:00 – 9:30 p.m. at Kinopicz American and will feature Francesco Lazzaro of Kinopicz, Tobias Roediger of RAVE, Marshall Shorts of Soulo Theory and Creative Control Fest, and Chris Mcalister of Sight Shift.
“The speakers for this event range from branding experts to video production artists to creative consultants,” Vojacek says. “The goal of hearing these “random” creative professionals is to have the attendee make their own creative connections between all the talks and go home with such an incredible amount of inspiration and motivation that it makes them unable to go to sleep that night.”
He’s aiming for a rise together instead of bring each other down mentality.
“The number one thing that we are trying to do is grow a creative community that’s noticed by others all around the country in the hopes of being able to compete with those other major markets,” Vojacek says.
He has big plans for continuing to spread that message, too. Earlier this year Vojacek ran a Kickstarter to turn Making Midwest into a massive, tw0-day conference. Combining talks and workshops, the event would fill a major gap.
“The people that are here are really good at what they do and have really amazing things to say and they just don’t have a place to say it,” Vojacek says.
He was aiming for an inaugural event in 2016, but with the campaign not hitting its goal, will likely refocus for 2017. And while the event may not be their year, the experience so far hasn’t been without its value.
Vojacek says he found one way not to raise money, but “I talked to so many people over those 30 days offering advice or just telling me they love the idea. I think overall we got the attention of many creatives in the area and that alone is a success for that Kickstarter.”
For more information and to purchase tickets for the April 5 event, visit makingmidwest.com.