[caption id="attachment_90682" align="alignnone" width="450"] As part of its WIMPgives program, WIMPs Tony Fardella and Kathy Pine (far left) design a website for Krista Gawronski and Erin Ascher of nonprofit Fabulous Women of Sonoma County. (credit: Arken Studios)[/caption]
NORTH BAY -- Social media has evolved into a great tool for business, allowing networking on so many different levels it's hard to imagine how we ever did without it. But face-to-face is making a comeback as well, stimulated by relationships developed in cyberspace.
[caption id="attachment_90680" align="alignright" width="300"] WIMPs gather for an exchange of interactive media news and strategies.[/caption]
New co-working, networking groups are springing up and old ones reviving, often as a direct result of Facebook connections and the site Meetup.com, a web host for local groups.
According to social media consultant Kerry Rego, local tech and non-tech business people are looking for group support.
"Co-working, shared spaces, crowd sourcing, crowd funding, cooperatives and locally focused vendor relationships: these are increasing in the North Bay," said Ms. Rego. "People want to work together with those they trust."
WIMP (Web and Interactive Media Professionals, beawimp.org) in Sonoma County, BABS (Bay Area Bloggers Society, meetup.com/BABSociety) in Marin, Chimera Arts and Maker Space (chimeraarts.org) in Sebastopol and Startup Grind North Bay (startupgrind.com/north-bay) are only a few of the new support groups for local professionals.
SofTech (SofTech.org), a Marin and Sonoma group for software developers, is making a comeback.
WIMP co-organizer Melissa Geissinger and three fellow web designers got frustrated having to drive to San Francisco to meet others in the industry.
"We wondered if there were enough designers in Sonoma County to form a group," she said. "At our first meeting 25 of them showed up, so we knew we were on the right track. Since then we've snowballed."
WIMP has 400 members on Meetup website and 500 on Facebook. The group meets for lunch and potluck suppers a couple of times a month for formal and informal discussions of industry issues.
"It's been so successful, we're currently crowd-funding for expansion resources," said Ms. Geissinger. "We'd like to take it to other counties."
Startup Grind North Bay is something of a continuation of Venture Greenhouse, an incubator that was shut down by Dominican University earlier this year. About 230 members, mostly entrepreneurs in the green tech sector, meet monthly in San Rafael for fireside chats.
"We don't offer funding, although angel investors are welcome, both as participants and speakers," said co-organizer John Starr. "We're purely a support group, offering how-to and how-not-to advice on starting a company."
[caption id="attachment_90681" align="alignleft" width="240"] Startup Grind has more than 300 members.[/caption]
Startup Grind partners with other local groups, including SofTech, now with 83 members who meet monthly in San Rafael to share strategies and listen to speakers and panels.
According to spokesman Mark Ginnebaugh the group languished for several years before sites such Facebook, LinkedIn and Meetup allowed the word to go out that meetings were again taking place.
"Now our numbers are growing," he said. "There are quite a few software developers in the region who are discovering the advantages to actual rather than virtual meetings."
Chimera Art Space is a co-operative of Sonoma County makers that meet in Sebastopol for sessions on everything manufactured, from adobe pizza ovens to 3-D printing. Now at 164 maker-members, the group welcomes photographers, jewelry makers, metal arts workers, arts and craftsmen, software designers and more.