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Doug Erickson’s New Tech Meetup has become a hotspot for Santa Cruz’s top tech minds. Photo by Dan Coyro. Used by permission.

Doug Erickson’s New Tech Meetup has become a hotspot for Santa Cruz’s top tech minds. Photo by Dan Coyro. Used by permission.

When Doug Erickson started the Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup in 2008, attendance was generally less than 20 people. Erickson, who lives in Santa Cruz but worked in Silicon Valley, says he had to beg his friends to attend. But he kept at it, driven by the desire to connect with tech people locally.

“I had thousands of network friends,” he says, “but I didn’t know anybody in Santa Cruz. There are 20,000 to 30,000 tech people driving the hill every day. I wanted to get to know some of them.”

Six years later, the local New Tech Meetup is a hub for the thriving community of technologists, entrepreneurs and tech-curious people in Santa Cruz. At last month’s event at Cruzio, there were well over 200 people. Another 33 were on the waitlist. Inside, it was standing room only.

The evening kicked off with an hour of networking accompanied by drinks, pizza and the UCSC a capella group Cloud 9. Then came introductions, a welcome by Santa Cruz Tech Beat founder Sara Isenberg, two company presentations which involved descriptions of genome sequencing projects—complete with terms like “genetic information economy”—and an introduction to a product created by Kimono Labs that enables users to pull data off of websites.

Next up were three teams from UCSC’s Impact Designs: Engineering and Sustainability through Student Service (IDEASS) program to pitch their projects. These included dye-sensitized advanced solar cells, which have the potential to transform the <a href="http://www.santacruz.com/articles/ucscs_solar_breakthrough.html; a new method for monitoring (and thus reducing) energy usage in commercial buildings, which is far more efficient than building new “green” buildings; and mobile, solar recharging stations that can be “iteratively reorganized and redesigned.” Three mentors from the community then provided feedback on the pitches. Their advice included creating stronger team identity and keeping presentations simple.

If it all sounds a little cerebral, it is—“I got lost in the science,” was one mentor’s comment. The brainpower here was impressive, yet at the same time, there was a very human, warm and welcoming vibe at the Meetup. With the emergence of Santa Cruz as a tech town, the buzz in the air is palpable.

Originally formed around a group of tech workers, the Meetup now boasts developers, IP lawyers, venture capitalists, startup founders, angel investors and people who, according to Erickson, are “looking to invest in Santa Cruz and the whole entrepreneurial scene.”

Equally important to the growing tech community, he explains, are the local infrastructure components including incubators Cruzio and NextSpace, the City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Department, legal, accounting and real estate aspects, and more.

“It’s grown into a more complete ecosystem,” he says. “To grow entrepreneurship in any community you need all of these components: the city, incubators, low-cost housing, developers, a university that fuels and seeds new ideas and connects students to the existing tech community—you need all those gears meshing together and that’s what I think is really going to fuel the growth.”

The objective of the Meetup’s all-volunteer team is to spark entrepreneurism by showcasing new technologies that members can use in their current businesses to give them a cutting edge, boost their careers or, as Erickson says, “simply to make them jealous wondering ‘Why didn’t I do this?’”

Tonight’s New Tech Meetup at Cruzio features Abe Smith of Badgeville, discussing how companies and educational institutions use gamification to improve customer and employee engagement; Ron Barr of Life Correlation discussing Happy Now, an app that lets you “correlate your happiness with elements in your life”; and three more IDEASS teams discussing projects focused on energy storage, solar products and diverting waste materials.

Looking forward, the team plans to host larger events featuring more guest speakers. On May 7, the New Tech team is bringing advisor/author/evangelist Guy Kawasaki to town to talk about his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions. The idea is to keep the juices of innovation, inspiration and connection flowing locally.

“Instead of sending them somewhere else, we need to get people to create opportunities here,” Erickson says. “The talent is here, the infrastructure is here, the money is here, everything is here. People want to work where they live, and they want to be a part of that community. The big picture is, let’s work where we like to live.”

For more information visit www.meetup.com/santacruznewtech.