Mike Trotzke, Chair of the Combine, has been a part of the event since its origin in 2009. He has seen this entrepreneurial initiative start out as an idea, and then transpire into this amazing event it has become today, nearly ten years later.

Rewind back some years, before the Combine came to fruition, Mike was looking for some deals to invest in and was at that time traveling the country going to every tech conference he could. He went to one in Omaha, Nebraska called Big Omaha.

“It was comparable to what they were doing on the coasts, but better. And it was held in Omaha. I immediately wanted to see one in Bloomington.”

He felt like it was an awesome experience with phenomenal speakers, and shared the idea with the Bloomington Technology Partnership, a newly formed group of Bloomington technologists which Katie Birge, one of our other volunteers, used to run. The BTP members committed more than $20K worth of sponsorships on the spot.

This is when the wheels started turning and the ideas behind the Combine became more than just a vision. He put a call for volunteers after the organizers of Big Omaha couldn’t commit running what was then referred to as “Big Bloomington”.

Mike knew he wanted to make this event a non-profit, labor of love. He also knew he didn’t want to go through the process of creating an entirely new non-profit from scratch. Mike’s friend, Rick Dietz, had founded Humanetrix Foundation, a non-profit focused on mobilizing technologists and providing educational opportunities.

“We looked at Humanetrix’s mission and saw that it had a community education component that aligned perfectly with what we wanted to do at the Combine.”

Humanetrix now provides the framework and fiscal sponsorship for a number of projects with similar missions to the Combine, including Startup Mic Night, Hoosier Women in Tech, Sigma Play and Ignite.

Over the years, the Combine event has grown and the volunteer group has expanded, adding a lot of its members from the pool of creatives at Cook Medical and Blueline.

Members who have worked with Mike speak highly of him and his passion for this event and its successes over the years. They’ve always felt like he presents a vision that really aligned with what the rest of the group is thinking.

Some highlights of the past years:

-CORNZILLA. Micah Baldwin, who embodies that entrepreneur mentality came the first year, and really blew everyone away with his presentation. When asked back the next year, he decided he was going to do something different, a presentation he’s never done before with no slides. It was a deeply personal story where he told his story of drug addiction. He was set to go on right after lunch, and he was nervous. He didn’t think he’d be able to do it. To help alleviate some of the stress, part way through this heavy presentation, Mike offered to run through the presentation in a corn suit to try and lighten the mood in the room, as well as help Micah relax. It worked, and Cornzilla really made a name for himself.

-The projection on the square last year was also a moment Mike felt was truly special.

-There is the time Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia came to the Combine and told attendees that the foundational ideas for Wikipedia were happing right here while he was studying at IU.

-There was a panel where people from the West Coast came in and caused a little controversy by stating that trying to start tech companies in Midwest communities such as Bloomington was a bad idea. They felt that the culture and investors were all wrong. It wasn’t a popular sentiment, but it served as a remarkable catalyst for solidarity in the area tech scene.