March 11th, 2011

If Portland is truly going to foster the startup scene, user groups are a critical component

If Portland is truly going to foster the startup scene, user groups are a critical component

Nearly four years ago when I started this little blog, one of the huge motivating factors for doing so was Portland’s vibrant user group community. In a town of geekery, openness, collaboration, and collegial interactions, the user groups—be they language focused or discipline focused—are perfectly suited for the way we tinker, the way we work, and the way we create.

Ironically enough, user groups are also underserved. They seem to be doing well enough on their own. They’re grassroots by nature. They just keep going and going without much help. But if we are truly going to foster the Portland startup scene, we must find ways to strengthen the user group community.

But how?

Well, for one, giving them more visibility. Much in the same way I have tried to give Portland startups more visibility, I’d like to highlight what’s happening in user groups around town. Because honestly? There’s some really cool stuff happening in those environments. And it deserves better coverage than it currently gets.

But that’s me. Marketing fluff I can do. What about more tangible support?

Well, that’s something that the Highly-Official PDX11 User Group Health Team—composed of Reid Beels, Audrey Eschright, Christie Koehler, and Bart Massey—are trying to do. And they’re starting out with a survey of user group leaders.

That’s right. It’s like a user group about user groups. How meta.

We are working on an assessment of user groups and would like all leaders to fill out a survey so we can understand what groups currently need and have a way to contact you for future helpful activities.

Here is the survey (it’s only 5 questions, and one of those is your name):

To further the goals of user group communication, we’re planning a shindig for user group leaders in the near future. More details to come!

So if you’ve run a user group, you’re thinking of starting a user group, or you currently run a user group or three, please take a few moments to respond to the survey.

I’m looking forward to seeing our already impressive user group community continue to improve.

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7 Responses to “If Portland is truly going to foster the startup scene, user groups are a critical component”

  1. Erik Engstrom says:

    Myself and a lot of other people got their start at the Berkeley Mac Users Group (BMUG) back in the mid-80′s. We had it all (and very little at the same time) back then – idea sponsorship – innovation and services for more than just a niche in a broader community. Over time that community expanded and contracted, ultimately being replaced by the internet and dissolving. However, the core elements launched thousands of careers, hundreds of companies and did this all on a shoestring budget.

    BMUG had a product base (Apple), we had perspective (Access & Information), we had corporate and education sponsors (Apple, Claris, Macromedia, you name it). BMUG had and provided access to everything and everyone in our core area.

    User Groups are about what? Users? Technologies? Users? If that message can reach like minded people around the world, provide a centralized community focus and theme (read: non profit organization with a board and at least one full time employee), an organization can build into strong foundation for a whole generation of entrepreneurial and educational opportunities.

    What would that *UG look like? Like OTBC? Like online offerings for the same purpose? How would it fit in Portland? What would it do? Who would benefit from contributing? Who would benefit from participating? What value would it bring to the community?

    I guess that’s what PDX11 is going to find out. I would sure love to participate directly and can’t wait to see what comes of the effort.

  2. Nancy King says:

    All the public entities and association who want to be part of helping foster a start-up culture should be looking at this.

    Exactly the right thing to do. No more incubators.

  3. Jmartens says:

    No more incubators? I don’t see how user groups replace incubators.

  4. Nancy King says:

    Okay, flip comment without explanation doesn’t work:)

    My point is, starting an incubator has become a popular thing to show that you’re helping the start up scene. User groups don’t get the attention they deserve as part of the ecosystem.

    The best incubators are put together by a group of people who want to feed off each others skills and develop cool ideas into companies. Advisors for those incubators are vetted well and motivated to help for the right reasons

    Just investing in a space does not make a great incubator. Like most things, it’s people.

  5. I think you need incubators *and* user groups both to create sustainable economic growth. I’m really only familiar with one incubator up close – OTBC – but I can tell you that there are services incubators offer that you simply cannot get from a user group. Let’s face it – *anybody* can join a user group, and unless they’re a total jerk, they can stay in one. But *not* anybody can answer these questions:

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