In 2018, I formed a networking group from a bunch of mates called "South Hants IT". Childish, but the acronym made me laugh. We stopped at adding "Professional Outreach Organisation". The purpose was simply to pull together a disparate bunch of guys from the Hampshire technology community to build relationships and see what happened.
In 2020, we had 30-40 regular attendees, and 150 people "interested", and relationships were starting for form. Tech companies locally were finding each other and developing business ideas, solving customer problems and generally having a laugh. We tried to meet in the pub, but Covid killed that off, so we continued through Zoom and didn't really lose any momentum. I'm pretty proud of that.
Throughout the process however, something felt like it was missing. It was difficult to grow as the premise was based largely around people I knew, and as a result the forum lacked any real formality or credibility.
I was aware of TechSolent as a concept because a few people involved were also part of South Hants IT. The premise was a lot more robust than mine, with backing from local gov and educational establishments. It didn't quite have the same momentum as South Hants IT, so I flirted with the idea of smashing South Hants IT into the TechSolent brand to see if that would fix the "missing thing" I was feeling - and it certainly has.
TechSolent has a stated purpose, to Connect, Develop and Promote the Technology aspects of the Solent region. Rather than just being a talking shop, the objective is to establish genuine and measurable connections, which convert into regional development, and that's quite exciting. Having the Education and Government lenses gives it both credibility and purpose, and having a committee that covers this whole spectrum makes it really interesting. We have lawyers, educational consultants, regional development growth officers from Local Gov, and tech guys on the committee - all with an aligned purpose and a mutual desire to make the region better. We all think differently, but that gives us incredible strength where it comes to generating ideas and solving problems. Substantially stronger than any smaller individual unit.
We've decided to formalise the mission into a charity structure. Maybe overkill, but as a charity we overcome any misconceptions about the purpose - no-one is trying to sell anything to anyone, we are genuinely all about advancing the local regional economy. Legally, the volunteer trustees need to make sure any income generated is used to support this agenda or to support others in need within the local region. No hidden commercial drivers.
As of Jan 2020, we've got momentum, a few things schedules, loads of ideas and energy and real optimism that something good will come of this. I'm really glad I joined up with the TechSolent guys, and think there is scope to connect more local networking groups up for the greater good over time. Providing we're all looking to achieve similar goals, its clearly got to be easier from a position of scale.
If you want to get involved, click on the "Get Involved" link above! More the merrier...