(Photo by Christopher Wink)
Consider the power of a collective.
Just about every growing tech community goes through periods of alternating between expansion and consolidation. One group surges to become a vital flag bearer, others grow to serve specific constituencies.
Look at the benevolent behemoth D.C. Tech Meetup, which serves as square one for many joining and connecting in #dctech and is far and away the largest technical meetup group in the region. But beyond the 20,000-person giant, D.C. has a thriving assortment of more focused groups, like D.C. Legal Hackers and Women Data Scientists and ACM Washington D.C.
Nobody involved confuses that range as redundancy. It’s choice. And across corners of D.C. tech, there are examples of efforts that could be confused as competitors but are instead meeting in the middle. One champion of the collaboration identified these intersections as collectives.
So don’t aim to tamp down the meetup enthusiasm. Instead, simply add the important ingredients of exposure and communication. For networking events, that’s helped by Meetup.com, the cultish social network that forms the communications strategy for any recurring tech events in the DMV and around the world.
But for a human touch, we at Technical.ly host an annual Super Meetup, where organizers and many of their members come together to meet, share and learn about other groups. The latest gathering Wednesday night welcomed more than 400 to WeWork White House on G Street near 12th. More than a dozen meetup organizers shared their groups and connected with prospective members, standing on stairs looking down on the crowd, foamy beer and tables from sponsors Gensler, Simple Information and Goodshuffle.
“It’s how I meet other organizers,” said James Jean-Claude, the organizer of Coder/Designer Keggers, among other meetups.
— Crowdie Advisors (@CrowdieAdvisors) August 16, 2017
As informal and irregular as the Technical.ly contribution to the idea of a meetup collective is, the idea of a shared network for similar focused groups is one that seems to resonate in D.C. But it takes vigilance: one tech scenester’s collective is another’s redundant effort.
“It’s about doing what you do best,” said Janice Omadeke, the smiling founder The Mentor Method, an inclusion and hiring platform. She was part of a conversation Technical.ly convened this week that dove into the concept of overlapping D.C. impact efforts eagerly collaborating.
Take the years-long effort to create a one-stop overview of resources for D.C. technologists and entrepreneurs. Organizer Brandon Lourng’s popular DMV Startup Wiki has fallen fallow since he left, so Shana Glenzer, ever the organizer, noted it might unite with a similar spirited Hackpad and be spearheaded by D.C. startup PR rep Tara Chantal-Silver. (Technical.ly, too, has contributed a brief beginner’s guide to the scene.)
Glenzer seems particularly suited to the collective. Indeed, it was her who first put the word in this reporter’s notebook. Last fall, she helped launch Beacon DC, a coalition that has since launched a grant program to support women leaders. Among its partners is DCFemTech, itself a collective of an array of women in tech groups, which Glenzer helped launch by spending a year building trust among other women in tech groups that she wasn’t aiming to be competitive or redundant.
“It’s important to have that way for people working on similar projects to share,” said Hatch cofounder Amelia Friedman, who is involved with the Vinetta Project, an initiative to connect high growth female founders with investors and resources.
The idea of collective hasn’t quite reached D.C.’s bustling coworking sector but that hasn’t stopped conversation across borders.
Over the last half-decade 1776 has secured its place as the region’s leading innovation crossroads. It’s where Presidents and Prime Ministers go. But there are dozens of other options, and not only WeWork, the global franchise of interior-design-heavy coworking staples. Just this April, the Inclusive Innovation Incubator soft launched on Howard University’s campus. Critically 1776 and In3 are working on a partnership for their members, said Erin Horne McKinney, the cofounder of network Black Female Founders and a former city staffer in economic development who has been close to the In3 project.
“We need more spaces,” McKinney said. But that doesn’t mean more distance, she added.
Having a central starting point, a kind of public commons, is vital for any community. But that ought not be at the expense of alternatives and supplements and experiments. It really just comes down to avoiding a single point of failure.
As General Assembly regional director Shanaz Chowdhery put it: “D.C. has lots of options. And that’s just the point.”