How do tech startups and networking mix in New Jersey? Pretty, well. Last week I attended the NJ Tech Meetup at the Babbio Center at Stephens Technical Institute in Hoboken. The place was filled with more than 100 entrepreneurs, business service providers, investors, students and others who were there to network, to learn and to share ideas. Maybe even to connect with an investor or find a hot new startup to fund.
Having not been to a this Meetup group before I was a little apprehensive, not knowing what to expect from a group I found on the Internet.
I'm glad I went.
The networking was great. I met a number of interesting people including a few students, designers and technologists working on startup projects, several investors and a couple of potential business partners. One interesting site you may want to check out is Advisoray, which connects startups with the service providers they need to get their startup off the ground.
After the networking were 3 five-minute startup pitches from Memori.al, an online obituary site, General Machines, an early stage startup that leverages machine learning to facilitate communication between deaf and hearing users, and Silver Living, which is introducing transparency to the senior care industry through independent research. General Machines was voted best pitch of the night.
The keynote and final speaker was Peter Shankman, author, speaker and angel investor. He was very entertaining, sharing stories of the early days of AOL, his Ironman exploits and expanding on his Four Rules for an Effective Social Media Campaign.
I learned some things that are sure to help me at future networking events and presentations:
- Don't be afraid to show up early – I wasn't sure what traffic would be like and left myself plenty of driving time so I got there about 20 minutes before the event started. There were only a few people there at the time, but it enabled me to introduce myself before things got too crowded and crazy and have some deeper conversations.
- Time to move on to the next person – The Meetup facilitators did a great job of getting us all to switch up our conversation partners every 5 minutes or so by calling out a “switch”. This made it easy to move from one conversation or group to another and to expand my networking reach.
- Sometimes bumping into someone can be beneficial – During one of those switches I turned around and literally bumped into someone who I think will be a great business contact for me. We're meeting for lunch next week. Certainly a fortuitous bump.
- Not every cool idea is marketable – Some of the ideas I heard from the entrepreneurs during the networking sounded really cool, but they had a hard time identifying a potential market or need for them. Cool ideas without a market won't go anywhere.
- Not every marketable idea is cool – On the other hand, some of the ideas were for rather mundane things, but they were brilliant in their execution or their apparent market. Not every idea needs to be cutting edge to be successful.
- It helps to have a stump speech – An elevator pitch is great to start a conversation, but the truly successful networkers had more of a stump speech beyond their initial pitch to expand on their conversation once they got started. It's a good thing for me to keep in mind as I attend future networking events.
- Follow-up to make real connections – You already know this, but follow-up to your networking is critical. I sent personal notes with invitations to connect via LinkedIn when I got home and, following the model Keith Ferrazzi promotes in his book Never Eat Alone I was able to make a couple of connections between the people I met and folks already in my network. Who knows, some of them may end up becoming business partners.
- NJ is cool – I already knew that, but it was nice to see the coolness in action.
What networking groups do you recommend?