The group is sponsored by the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurial Technologies (NACET), which also provides space for them to meet.
Stacy Fobar, a representative of NACET, says the idea behind getting the “Geeks” together goes far beyond just networking, and is an initiative aimed at fostering the development of tech startups in Flagstaff.
“It’s a way for a cluster of software developers to get to meet each other [and] to get to know each other,” Fobar said. “It’s a way for software programmers and developers to get together and share information, share ideas to hopefully develop more business in Northern Arizona. They’ll be able to compare ideas, contrast ideas, network, find more business and farm out business if they need to.”
Frank Koenen, a local programmer and one of the original members of the group, says the Geeks present an enormous networking opportunity for technologists.
“I’ve been attending their meetings for the last three or four months and have gotten involved with them,” Koenen said. “Being that I do freelance work, I was interested in networking in Flagstaff, along with seeing what opportunities might be here. Plus, [I was interested in] networking with other professionals and seeing if there might be cooperation.”
Currently, “Meet the Geeks” is still in its infancy, and many of the members are still getting to know each other. However, Koenen says a future feature of the meetings will be presentations on various subjects.
“There is a lot of sharing of information amongst group members,” Koenen said. “Something I do well, I might present that to the group and share that with them. I don’t know if it’s official, but it seems to me that the intent of the group, in general, is that they are looking for connections to companies who need that kind of service.”
Another original Geek is Darryl Brown, the lead software engineer for a local business, 2b Design and Development. Drawing a comparison to Boulder, Colo., he says the group is focused on making Flagstaff a haven for software startups.
“I think different people are looking for different things from it,” Brown said. “But, my understanding is that from NACET’s point of view, they’re trying to sponsor entrepreneurial activity and business in Flagstaff. And Meet the Geeks is really focused on software, and trying to make Flagstaff sort of a software mecca.”
Koenen says he believes both the city and the surrounding region have a surplus of skilled programmers and software engineers – a phenomenon he credits to the young professionals coming out of Northern Arizona University.
“Besides my own personal benefit from being connected to it, I think there’s a benefit for the community [and] a benefit for businesses in Flagstaff, who may not realize that there’s a vast amount of skill here already,” Koenen said. “Just talking about it and letting people know it’s here – that can’t be bad.”
However, Koenen says there is a caveat to that assessment: he believes Northern Arizona is losing the battle to retain tech jobs to other parts of the state and country.
“I think [the market for tech jobs in Flagstaff is] pretty weak right now,” Koenen said. “I have different contacts who will feed me information about jobs being available, and they’re not in Flagstaff. They’re in the Valley, they’re in Tucson, they’re back in the Midwest, they’re on the West Coast. It’s a struggle for some to stay here as technologists.”
Koenen says the Geeks group is a good step in the right direction if the city wants to hold on to more skilled programmers and help create jobs.
“If that’s important for the success of Flagstaff or the success of Northern Arizona, it could use some support,” Koenen said. “Companies need to realize that there’s talent up here already.”
For NACET, that is the goal. Fobar says she hopes the end result of Meet the Geeks is a boom in local tech startups and related businesses.
“I would like to see several of these Geeks start their own businesses, become NACET clients, get incubated and keep their businesses here in Flagstaff,” Fobar said. FBN