by Anne Pyburn Craig
When Kale Kaposhilin and his friends Dan Stone and Daniel and Sabrina Schutzsmith decided a little over two years ago to start a meetup group for coders, engineers, web designers, programmers and others involved in the tech universe, they knew they weren’t the only ones around. Still, the group’s explosive growth–there were 1,237 members as of June 5, and events regularly draw well over 100–has been a delight.
“We had specific needs in mind when we started, but it has evolved through people’s excitement about what they could bring to it, and we’re very open to that,” says Kaposhlin, a Vermont native who fell in love with the Hudson Valley during his time at Bard College and stuck around to find Evolving Media Network, a web design and digital media studio based in Kingston.”We still talk a lot about software and code, but we really celebrate people taking a creative, artistic approach to almost anything. That’s what tech actually means: any system that humans are improving. And one of the most beautiful things about the Hudson Valley is that so many people in all areas of business are constantly looking for the mashup, the improvement, the innovation.”
The group gets together monthly, alternating between Kingston and Poughkeepsie, and hosts three speakers on tech-related topics each time. One of the three is typically a startup entrepreneur. There’s good food and a lively Q&A session at the end.
“This group is powerful,” writes Sarah Martha Jacob, a business consultant and member since 2014. “On top of meeting so many talented, professional, and friendly people, my business has grown through connections I’ve made here. I have about two coffee meetings per week with people I’ve met through this network. Because of this group, I have a much better pulse on what’s happening in tech in the Hudson Valley and who’s out there. I see very positive trends and can identify opportunities for myself and others in my network. Business is popping, and I have HV Tech Meetup to thank!”
Kaposhilin says the lively vibes are a perfect fit with the positives of the emerging economy. “I think people look around and say, ‘Wow, this is fresh,” he says. “[Being] inclusive and warm is absolutely critical. We have a lot to do with helping traditional entrepreneurs get past the fear of doing things differently, helping them look at the larger vision.”
One of January’s speakers, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, was inspired to start the Kingston Stockade Football Club, a semi-pro men’s soccer team that’s been drawing crowds in the high hundreds to Dietz Stadium for home games. Design-oriented members bring in aspects of the fine arts and forge connective tissue with events such as the O+ Festival. A splinter group, Dev O’Clock, has formed to allow coders and developers to drill down into the fine points undisturbed.
Member Kate Bradley Chernis is rolling out a software platform that Kaposhilin says “will be as big as Foursquare, and she’s committed to building it here in the Hudson Valley. We’re talking 200 jobs. She’s just finishing the A-round of gathering capital investors, and there’s a huge unmet need she can fill. And she has such a rock’n’roll attitude.”
Bearing out Kaposhilin’s belief in the forward-thinking nature of the Hudson Valley, sponsorship is growing, and not just among new economy, arts, and tech sector partners. The list includes local and regional economic development councils: HealthQuest, the law firm of Jacobowitz and Gubits, and the 155-year-old Rhinebeck Bank; like the membership roster, it keeps on growing.
“Humans have had so many problems because of the scarcity approach to resources,” says Kaposhilin. “Fortunately, the whole model is changing. I have spoken at a few traditional economic development events, and what is emerging is the need for a whole new vocabulary. The conversation about what measurements and indicators look like is broken in itself. Just defining a company by the number of jobs, for example, is inadequate to represent the positives.”
Last month’s speaker, Kris Walker, for example, is a Hudson Valley native making a very sophisticated tech solution that helps others get their content out into the world. Walker’s open source software platform, Odd Networks, the first of its kind, supports content developers in getting their work straight to set-top boxes and smart TVs. Walker lives in Saratoga now, but comes down to join in on the tech meetups in Kingston.
“You can’t quantify the opportunities he is creating by counting jobs,” Kaposhilin says.
Livelihood publisher Chris Hewitt also spoke at the May Meetup, sponsored by Kingston-based fiber network Lightower and held at chic event venue (and Meetup sponsor) Senate Garage. Hewitt, executive director of Hudson Valley Current, was spreading the word about the possibilities of local currency in general and our own digital version in particular.
Like the Meetup, the Current has experienced strong, swift growth over just the past couple of years; as of June, there were 217 members and over 160,000 Currents had changed hands. SUNY Ulster educators John Sheehan and Sean Nixon presented the Real World Classroom Road Map App, a student-led tech development project that will connect collegians to supports and resources.
“These presentations always deliver more than could be expected, and last night was no different,” wrote member Ilona, reviewing the event.
“What it comes down to, in practical terms, is just knowing each other,” says Kaposhilin. “Everyone has things they need and things they want to give. There is abundance. We just need to celebrate it together, get excited, and watch it increase exponentially — and together, we rise the tide.”
To learn more about Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, visit meetup.com/hvtech.