A note from the Director: Reinvigorating the network meetup

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Did you know that pre-pandemic the Bristol and Bath tech cluster had more meetups per head than any other tech cluster in the UK? 

We believe at Engine Shed that this thriving grass roots network activity is one of the critical, but underappreciated factors in the shared success story of our region’s tech cluster. Unfortunately, events of the last 18 months have caused this activity to slow significantly.  

While there are examples of great virtual networks forming, generally there has been a real wane in enthusiasm for get togethers on Zoom – particularly for the more social oriented meetups. The scene has also generally driven by volunteers, many of whom have moved on to new careers, or their personal situations have changed. Support and refreshments for gatherings were also often subsidised by funding or access to resources with local institutions, which understandably hasn’t been a priority in the tough days we’ve all been through.  

Stopping the decline  

Without intervention, we could be sleep walking into losing not only something that made working in the tech sector great fun, but actually missing an important pillar of its future success.  

The challenge of the ‘talent gap’ for growing tech ventures seems to be becoming more acute by the year, a shared challenge locally, nationally and globally. The proliferation of bootcamps (including by the West of England Combined Authority) might yet help address this, but is there a sustainable flow of applicants? 

To grow the pipeline of talent, particularly from diverse communities and backgrounds, we need the widest range of informal opportunities to engage and meet potential peers so that there is a place everyone feels comfortable to take their first step.  

And to grow capability, broaden experience and develop new shared standards, we need communities of learning and engagement amongst peers from different organisations.  

Finally, this peer-to-peer engagement is going to be even more important in what comes next. As highlighted in the recent visit of the CBI to the region, the wider world is starting to notice the critical mass of activity in high growth sectors characterised by multi-disciplinary strength and the collision of talent across industries like creativetech, cyber, deeptech and fintech.  

Designers working with roboticists, social scientists being inspired to train as developers and chemists exploring ideas data scientists can happen by accident, but it’s far more likely with plenty of facilitated opportunities whether over coffee, snacks or a glass of wine.  

This is a long way of saying…meetups and networks are important…let’s help build them back again! 

Our good friends at TechSPARK and in the SETsquared community are pulling together details from our databases of individuals and groups who used to drive this scene and will be reaching out with offers of support to help get them going again. We are also going to be speaking with the other great organisations in the city who provide support to ventures of all shapes and sizes.   

We’ll also be looking to support new meetups and networks for the local creative, digital and technology clusters scenes. As a starting point, we’ll be happy to offer guidance on hosting sessions, promotion through our channels or potentially free networking space in our facilities 

Whether you are into DevOps, digital health, or AI for the green revolution…if you are interested in getting together a meetup or network focused on bringing peers together, however small, get in touch!  

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