I’ve written a few times in this newsletter about various pipelines for startup activity — universities, coworking spaces, and local corporations. But one pipeline I haven’t touched on yet is local meetup groups.

Meetups can be a powerful way to bring together a wide variety of people who are interested in startups or a certain type of technology and give them the motivation and support they need to go out and start their own company. Bill Myers, organizer of VR meetup groups in Akron and Cleveland, Ohio — and the founder of his own startup, New Territory — is a good example of this.

Myers was working in video production when he was first introduced to VR by a friend — around the time Oculus Rift came out on Kickstarter.

“It completely blew my mind, and I knew my life was forever changed as a result. What I wanted to do was immediately purchase one myself and share it with the rest of the world,” Myers told VentureBeat during a phone conversation.

Myers organized his first VR meetup in Akron in the summer of 2015. That meeting consisted of Myers, 15 of his friends and family, and a couple of strangers who had stumbled across the group on Meetup.com. A few months later, Myers created another meetup in Cleveland, about a 50-minute drive from Akron. In total, the two groups now have about 900 members, and they meet about once a month.

While the first few meetings centered around introducing people to VR and showing them what they could do with the technology, Myers says the meetings today are more tailored to developers. Speakers have included Nick Fajt, CEO and cofounder of Against Gravity, the company behind Rec Room. The groups have also hosted meetups at local institutions that are working with VR, such as Case Western Reserve University, which has partnered with Microsoft to explore use cases for HoloLens.

The traction that the meetup groups gained eventually inspired Myers to start his own company, New Territory, in August 2017.

“At the meetups, I saw a need to meet and talk about VR and engage with the technology outside of just meeting once per month. And that’s when I knew — my gut told me — that Northeast Ohio was ready for some sort of shared space to continue engaging with the technology,” Myers told VentureBeat.

New Territory consists of a physical arcade with three HTC Vive VR headsets that are available for people to play multiplayer games on, as well as an AR software development business. One project that New Territory is currently working on is a collaboration with the Akron Children’s Hospital to develop an app that will pair with an opioid prevention curriculum for middle schoolers, currently being developed by the state of Ohio. The company has also developed its own AR iOS app.

Myers says his advice for people who are considering starting their own meetup group is to make sure they have the time to plan meetings consistently, and to be willing to listen to feedback so they can improve programming over time.

“At the time, [I felt] that not many people enjoyed this technology as much as I did … and now I have this growing, vibrant community behind me,” Myers told VentureBeat.

Thanks for reading, and as always, please send me your thoughts via email.

Anna Hensel
Heartland Tech Reporter

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