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I was sent a link to this article about a number of interesting things happening in Charlottesville, Virginia, including a meetup that, while it is 10 years older, should sound very familiar to anyone who has been to a Florida Creatives Happy Hour.
Make up your mind: Inside Charlottesville's brainstorming revolution
by Brendan Fitzgerald, C-Ville.com
One of Charlottesville’s best examples is also one of its oldest. Jack Smith founded the Neon Guild in 1996 as an informal technology meet-up and a subcontracting pool for his interactive entertainment company, Arrow NewMedia. Formerly called PeopleSpace, Inc., Smith’s company develops online entertainment for a variety of clients—“from Playboy to ‘Sesame Street,’” he says.
The guild’s membership is similarly diverse. A January 4 meeting attracted roughly 40 regulars, along with six or seven newcomers. Those on-hand included UVA and Martha Jefferson Hospital employees, freelance software developers and graphic designers, and at least one plumber, who writes computer programs in his spare time.
Each meeting features a guest speaker, and offers two hours of highly engaging, highly informal shop talk over pizza and beer. However, attendance is voluntary. In fact, the bulk of the guild’s activities—technology troubleshooting, job inquiries and rumors—happen via a members-only mailing list. But while guild members don’t pay dues or fees, each must accomplish a simple mission to join the gang: Attend a single meeting and introduce yourself.
“We’ve been meeting all these years, and every single time new people come,” says Debra Weiss, founder of DRW Design and, for several years, the bubbly Guild Master. Without dues or fees, Weiss says, “people give what they give way more, because nothing is asked of them.”
With the Neon Guild, members have nothing to lose; consequently, they have everything to gain. The guild preceded Charlottesville’s dot-com boom, and membership continued to grow long after the bust—around the turn of the century, when companies like locally based “e-tailer” Value America filed for bankruptcy and laid off 200 people.
Much like the Charlottesville Trade School, the Neon Guild meets wherever space is consistently available. While the guild currently convenes at Inova Solutions on Avon Street, it has bounced from the Pink Warehouse on South Street to the King Building on Water, and between the homes and offices of its members.
In 2003, a bespectacled self-starter from Northern Virginia decided to move his entrepreneurial ambitions and growing family to Charlottesville. When Jeff Gunther arrived, he found groups like the Neon Guild, composed of members who developed interesting ideas whenever they could find the room to collaborate. He decided to give them a permanent space.
The next section of the article goes on to talk about Open Space, a coworking facility in the region.