A group of South Orange and Maplewood-based technology professionals launched the SOMa Tech Collective on Monday, May 23, and the networking idea is steadily growing with more than 225 approved members to the Facebook group as Thursday morning, May 26.
Two of the brains behind the initiative are Spencer Ante and John Garbarino, founders of the service review app Who We Use (remember those blue map pin signs that were all over town a couple years back?).
“SOMa Tech Collective is a group for people who work in the technology industry or technology-related jobs in other industries (retail, media, fashion, finance, etc.) who live in Maplewood and South Orange and surrounding towns in New Jersey. We aim to provide a forum for community building, networking, knowledge sharing and fun,” wrote Garbarino in the initial group post.
“John and I had this idea a year ago,” said Ante, regarding SOMa Tech Collective. “We were meeting all these people working in tech in the area and it seemed like an obvious idea, but we got so consumed with our startup that it got put on the back burner.”
Now on the front burner, the group has grown from an initial core of two dozen to more than 225 in four days.
Ante thinks it can get much bigger.
“When Who We Use got into conversations with Maplewood Township officials regarding lawn signs in 2014, we learned there were a lot of people running businesses out of their homes,” said Ante. (The Maplewood Chamber of Commerce backs this up, reporting that 40-50% of its members are now “home-based.”)
“Just looking at all the people who joined so far, it’s a really interesting mix.” Ante points to members who work for big companies like Google and Verizon but also startups and “people who consult from home.”
Cathy Sharick, executive editor at PowerToFly, a global startup connecting women in technology to remote jobs at high growth companies, is a SOMa Tech Collective founder and is typical of many of those joining.
“I was formerly the managing editor at Time magazine’s website Time.com and have spent my career in tech building and editing websites,” explained Sharick. “I’ve met so many local tech talents in Maplewood and South Orange since moving here from Brooklyn six years ago. I love connecting people in my own network and helping other women in tech advance their careers. I’m excited to be founding member of this group.”
Why start the collective now?
“We were inspired and impressed by the SOMA Advertising, Media and Entertainment Network,” said Ante. “We’re also about to relaunch our app and want to be part of that bigger community before we do that.” Ante explained the collective can also support the launch of other members’ products and companies.
Ante said he’s also become fascinated with how the vibe of East Coast tech differs from the vibe of West Coast tech (“East Coast is more about how tech intersects with other parts of life … West Coast is more pure tech”) and contends that this quality that becomes more pronounced when you move to the suburbs.
“That’s the next wave of technology — Uber’s a big example — we’re building technology for things affecting other parts of our lives…. People who live in the suburbs now have a different outlook on life than folks in the city … it’s more about lifestyle … a more mature perspective.”
What’s next for SOMa Tech Collective?
A physical meet-up is “absolutely” coming soon.
“We’re going to have a first planning meeting with founding members, but definitely a launch [party] in the next month,” said Ante.
And — as one can see from the “Silicon Jersey” branding in the SOMa Tech Collective cover photo — the group plans to expand beyond Maplewood And South Orange, while still remaining based here.
Said Ante, “Ultimately, we’re hoping it connects people outside of our area as well.”
SOMa Tech Collective’s Founding Members
- John Garbarino, CEO & Co-Founder WhoWeUse
- Spencer Ante, President & Co-Founder WhoWeUse
- Sean Mills, SnapChat
- David Leibowitz, Founder PicketFencer.com
- Barry Navan, VP Google
- Cathy Sharick, Executive Editor, PowerToFly
- Pete Pachal, Tech Editor Mashable
- Paraic O’Connor, Director Citywide Payroll Systems, City of New York
- Michael Auteri, Senior Software Engineer, Penske
- Gennady Borukhovich, Founder Farfaria
- Lee Hurley, Head of Marketing at ALOHA
- Adam Hirsch, EVP Edelman
- Lory Palagonia, Manager Social & Virtual Collaboration, McKinsey & Company
- Hal Dillon, VP Viacom, Digital Asset Management
- Jailan Griffiths, Vice President- Brand & Client Experience, Nasdaq
- Toby Bordreaux, CTO Control Group (acquired by Google)
- Pete Stein, General Manager Fullscreen
- John Fretz, Partner/Founder, eMDTec
- Rachel Zisser Kaplowitz, CEO of Honey
- David Kaplowitz, Chief of Staff at BirchBox
- Sharon Feder, Chief Digital Officer of Rachel Ray
- Felix Sockwell, Designer/Artist
- Vlad Stelmak, Managing Director, Legacy IT Remarketing
- Andy Berndt, VP, Creative Lab, Google
Click on photos to enlarge: