(Editor’s note: This story was updated at 8:45 a.m. December 15. The original version incorrectly identified Michelle Jones. Jones is vice president of Social Media Club Louisville and a charter member.)
Social Media Club Louisville leaders are promising that Wednesday night’s December club meeting will be a defining – make that redefining – moment in Louisville’s digital future.
SMC Louisville officials will unveil a new name and a new ambitious mission, say blogger Jay Garmon and Jason Falls, a social-media pioneer.
Falls, a co-founder and first president of the 3-year-old group, and Garmon, the group’s new president, declined to reveal the new name.
But they did reveal the new agenda: to transform SMC Louisville into an aggressive advocacy organization for technology in Louisville, on the way to transforming the city’s economy.
“After Wednesday’s (SMC Louisville) meeting, it’s not going to be a group of people who get together, have a beer and talk about Facebook,” said Falls, a consultant who owns Social Media Explorer.
“We’re going to have a new name, a new brand and a new website, and we’re going to be changing the way we contribute to the community,” he said.
That means pushing a digital agenda for education, training and investment.
“All we hear about is, ‘Another manufacturer. Another hospital. Another convention,’ ” Garmon said. “That’s going to make us the most cutting-edge city of 1978.”
As an alternative, SMC Louisville’s new mission will include lobbying local government official, economic -development players and university administrators to build a deeper, wider base of techno-professionals and investors attuned to digital start-ups.
In Austin, Texas and other tech centers, “If you have an idea and fifty bucks,” tech entrepreneurs can find capital to fund start-ups, Garmon said.
“It’s not like that here. Not that Louisville doesn’t have smart investors,” he said. But most of venture capital activity is focused on biotech, “where there is a very clear (investment) formula,” he said.
New drugs and medical products have to go through trials and test phases, then get U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.
“None of that is how it works in tech,” Garmon said. “No one knew Facebook was going to be Facebook before it happened.”
The pivotal moment in the decision to revamp SMC Louisville was when Backupify, where Garmon works as a blogger, moved its headquarters to Boston last September. (Garmon is one of a group of Backupify personnel who opted to keep working out of Louisville.)
Backupify, which backs up and archives social media data and “software as a service “ data, was founded in 2008 by Louisvillian Rob May, a digital designer who has both an MBA and an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering.
Before Backupify, May had started and sold the business blog Businesspundit.com.
In this passage from a column May wrote for xconomy.com in Boston, he blogged about his decision:
Backupify was not a good fit for the Midwest because we had a difficult time finding the right technical talent, and we had a difficult time finding funding. When I first started raising money, we were able to round up about $150K on a $1M pre-money in Louisville. That was just enough money to make sure we accomplished nothing significant and was the initial impetus for looking outside the city.
“Backupify left for a hundred different reasons,” Falls said. “But at same time, if we want to be a top-tier city with the significant talent of an Austin, we need to make changes to attract and keep more talent, more companies and to inspire folks at the various universities to ramp it up.”
Louisville needs more designers, code writers, application engineers and tech-focused investors, Falls and Garmon said.
“We all love this town,” Garmon said. “We all love technology.” But keeping a technology business here is tough, he said.
Falls said Louisville has “a nice core” of talent,” but not enough application engineers and others to sustain start-ups in a robust tech community: “We want to change that.
Boston, Austin and San Francisco have talent pools because the universities have web engineering programs and an infrastructure that perpetuates a start-up culture, Falls and Garmon said.
“We want U of L, Bellarmine (University) and whoever to get better at churning out top talent,” Falls said.
The new group will focus on changing the political climate and the tax climate to make Louisville start-up friendly.
“We want to work with GLI to incentivize technology- based companies coming here. We’re hoping we can become influential in those circles,” Falls said.
Garmon acknowledged that the group “is fighting a huge uphill battle.” While Louisville shares some similarities with Austin, the catalyst for tech in Texas was Dell Inc., the computer manufacturer founded by Michael Dell, Garmon said.
“Dell made millionaires out of a lot of people who in turn invested in new tech companies, and that created a virtuous circle,” Garmon said.
In Louisville, the success of hospital company-turned health insurer Humana Inc. also created a great deal of wealth. And Louisville is rich in logistics talent because of UPS, he noted. But the investment capital doesn’t flow to technical talent, Garmon said.
Too many colleges are creating the workers of yesterday, he added. “U of L and Speed School are turning out mechanical engineers for Appliance Park. But Appliance Park is not going to be the engine that makes Louisville grow,” Garmon said. “That’s what we want to change.”
Garmon was elected SMC Louisville president in October. He replaces Falls, who co-founded the club with Todd Earwood, president of Try It Local.
Garmon was elected after he pitched the board the ambitious plan to change the group from one focused on social media innovations to one focused on expanding Louisville’s technology base, Falls said.
“At the meeting, Jason nominated me after I pitched the expansion,” Garmon said. “(The board) said, ‘It’s a great idea!
“Now you get to run it.’ ”
The back story: Social Media Club Louisville was founded in 2007. While it has never had a formal membership, the group has about 400 people in its e-mail data base, according to Falls. In those years, SMC Louisville has put on mostly free monthly events with top social media experts from across the United States. The group also has put on a number of social media boot camps for companies, events that included a fee.
The event is sponsored by Verizon Wireless, which will have new models on hand to review.
Hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar will be available.
After the meeting, the group will adjourn for a holiday celebration/networking session at nearby Havana Rumba, 12003 Shelbyville Road. The December meeting is free and open to the public. But attendees are asked to bring a new article of childrens clothing as part of the National Holiday Tweet Drive for less fortunate children.
All items will be donated to a local charity or shelter that serves childrens needs. Campbellsville University students are helping coordinate our contribution to the national effort, which includes 19 cities across the United States.