Bringing the Baltimore Charm to Your Edtech Meetup
Food, drinks and good company make for a successful edtech meetup. In cities like New York City and San Francisco, simply posting an announcement with a date and location may be enough to draw a big crowd.
But organizers in other regions will need to put in some extra effort--at first. Here are some tips for nurturing and growing a vibrant edtech meetup community.
Find Partner Organizers from Different Spheres: If the point of an edtech meetup is to bring together different stakeholders, then it’s more effective to have organizers from different communities. If you’re an educator, find a technologist or entrepreneur or both, for example. EdTech Maryland’s fabulous co-organizer Ed Mullin, vice president at Mind Over Machines and executive director of the Baltimore Robotics Center, brings his extensive technology community while I reach out to the educator and startup communities.
Clear Purpose: When done thoughtfully, these events become opportunities to grow awareness, make connections, announce opportunities, and to highlight the work of the different stakeholders in the community.
The focus of the meetup should primarily be networking but short programming can contribute to larger goals of building community. For example, EdTech Maryland begins each meetup with 1) a brief overview of goals and updates (2-3 minutes) 2) upcoming related events and then 3) showcases two organizations --either an edtech startup, non-profit or school-based program.
Each organization has 5-7 minutes to share their work. These are not investment pitches; however, the presenters may include an ask at the end, “we’d love to come visit your school,” “we’re fundraising now,” or “looking for volunteers.” EdTech Maryland’s first experiment with including brief presentations was so successful that they’re now an established expectation.
When the meetups were under 40 people, everyone went around and introduced themselves--as the meetup grew larger, this became no longer practical. A good problem to have!
Establish Regular Meeting Times: Monthly meetups are the norm for most edtech communities but every region is different. Scheduling two hours is a good block of time. EdTech Maryland meetups are usually 5 to 7pm but people often stay past 8pm. Look ahead to see if there are any conflicting holidays or events and schedule accordingly.
Tools: Eventbrite (free) works well for registration and makes it easy for people to donate. Meetup (annual fee) allows everyone to see who is coming and to know a bit about members and includes a specific section to highlight sponsors. Members can post message to the whole group which can be great way to share information about other related events. Donating is less obvious on the Meetup site though. More people found us organically through Meetup when we switched. Both tools have their strengths and there are likely other viable apps.
Location, Location, Location: A meetup can happen almost anywhere. There’s no reason to waste money renting a space--many people and organizations are willing to open their doors. Do consider parking and public transportation, particularly if you want to attract educators.
Keeping a meetup in the same location and the same regular schedule (ours are the 2nd Thursday of the month) ensures that folks know where to show up each month.
After EdTech Maryland’s Happy Hour was more established, we chose to move the location each month to showcase different community venues. Here are some suggestions:
- Co-working or incubator spaces
- Company locations (sometime companies will also sponsor the event)
- Relevant non-profit spaces
- Schools (though K-12 schools may have rules about alcohol)
- Members-only clubs (one of our organizers is a member of an Engineers Club that wanted more people to see their space)
- Community spaces
- Art galleries
- Maker spaces
Each kind of venue has its own challenges and strengths: some places come ready with drinks so participants can buy their own; other locations require catering or hauling in food and beverages yourself. EdTech Maryland experimented with different locations and arrangements--sometimes bringing in catering, sometimes ordering pizzas. Remember: People come for the networking and not the food, so don’t worry about getting anything too fancy.
Partner with Sponsors: Meetup organizers often assume that local edtech companies are the perfect sponsor for meetups. Sometimes this is true. However, non-edtech organizations often make better partners. For example, in addition to sponsoring our meetups, EdTech Maryland’s partners M&T, a banking institution, and SC&H, an accounting firm, show their support beyond financial donations by encouraging staff to attend and serve as volunteers for major events.
Think about what organizations in your community want to develop relationships with entrepreneurs and who might care deeply about education.
Don’t be Afraid to Charge a Nominal Fee: EdTech Maryland usually asks for a suggested donation of $10 to help defray the costs of food and drinks. When events are held at restaurants or bars, participants can also purchase their own drinks. Securing discounted drinks makes people appreciative as well.
Leverage Social Media: Make sure to post the event to multiple social media outlets: Facebook groups, LinkedIn, Meetup wherever potential participants visit. Establish a hashtag for people to post to Twitter: EdTech Maryland simply uses #edtechmd for all its events. Participants love photos! Posting albums to a Facebook page encourages participants to share and tag.
Remember to capture who attended each event so you can add them to an outreach list. (Never sell or share this list!)
If you’re in the Baltimore area on the second Thursdays of the month, come join EdTech Maryland’s Happy Hour!