Tech entrepreneur Salvatore Camarda

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What do Microsoft, GE, and the Chicago Police Department have in common? They’re all working to reach community and team members in a more meaningful way with the help of a Chicago-born tech entrepreneur with deep Sicilian roots.

MeetApp North America co-founder and CEO Sal Camarda has taken his smartphone app from a lean startup to a company boasting some of the most powerful and well-known clients in the world in just over a year.

While MeetApp boasts a variety of features and services, Camarda puts it simply: “We’re trying to solve problems using a vehicle people understand, and that’s your smartphone.”

Camarda has spent some 17 years in tech with an emphasis on user experience and human/computer interaction in an effort to find more meaningful ways for people to connect with their own personal technology. While working for a large Chicago-based tech company, Camarda decided to take a chance on an idea of his own. “Sometimes you just can’t be afraid to take the risk,” Camarda says.

MeetApp creates custom mobile apps for corporate events and initiatives. (Events tend to be more short-term and initiatives often last throughout the year.). More plainly, imagine being able to interact with event attendees and sponsors in real time and in a more meaningful way through your smartphone. Instant push notifications, real-time polls, and the ability to disseminate information immediately are ust a few of MeetApp’s capabilities.

The company’s technology and expertise has been sought out by tech firms, healthcare organizations and airlines for training and has been approached by both the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department to foster more parent and community interaction.

As one of the top event apps in the Scandinavian market, MeetApp began in Stockholm, Sweden, home to co-founders Mats Backlund and Marcus Falck. MeetApp — an entirely self-funded venture, a point of pride in a digital climate where seed money is often grabbed for with little regard to where it comes from— earned a coveted 2016 Red Herring Award in Europe, a prize for the most promising startups in tech. Camarda credits part of that award to the way the company operates. “We’re an agile company,” he says. “We don’t go to a client trying to sell and app. We go to a client trying to solve a problem.”

For Camarda, leaps of faith are a family tradition. His father left a steady job with a major grocery chain to start his own specialty meat shop, Joseph’s Finest Meats, on Chicago’s Northwest Side in 1977. Immigrants from the small Sicilian town of Altavilla Micilia, parents Joseph and Teresa took a chance with a growing family and a lot on the line to create a thriving business that recently earned praise on WGN’s Chicago’s Best.

A longtime president of the Congregazione di Maria SS. Lauretana di Altavilla Milicia in Chicago, Camarda’s dad involved him and his four siblings — Maria, Rosaria, Ben and Joe — from an early age. That immersion in a community steeped in tradition is a big part of the reason Camarda aims for MeetApp to function as what he calls a “company with a conscience.”

“My father has always been heavily involved with the Italian community,” he notes. “His belief is that you should always be part of the solution and that you have an obligation as a member of society to strive to do better, not just for yourself but for those around you.”

Much of Camarda’s focus is on helping corporations and institutions improve internal communications. He also sees opportunities for grassroots involvement in the larger community.

“A corporation is a small microcosm of a public community,” he notes. “You’re seeing a lot of the same issues. You’re seeing disenfranchised people who feel like they have no voice.”

Apps like these can give those people a voice, according to Camarda.

Regardless of the audience, MeetApp’s goal remains the same in his eyes: solving problems and encouraging engagement and interaction by reaching into people’s other pocket — the one with the smartphone.

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