Moments after running the list though a tweet appeared about a new group called Data Insights, meeting once a month to discuss all things data. By the time further tweets and comments had rolled in, we had 52 groups listed.
Why so many?
In its latest report on Cambridge, SQW says networks are universally regarded as hugely important for early stage businesses, even in sectors in which intellectual property is strongly protected, networks are effective.
The company behind the seminal Cambridge Phenomenon report of 1985 was repeatedly told about the importance of networks of relationships, that they were the essence of "doing business" in Cambridge and the route to early stage financing, to recruitment, to business development, to technical problem solving, to building trust and to having fun.
SQW says Cambridge city centre's thriving coffee culture is an important factor in their emergence as they are easier to sustain and increasingly the setting in which business - which is an overwhelmingly social process - is done.
Neil Davidson, chairman of Cambridge Network and co-CEO of Red Gate Software which has sponsored at least four networking groups or events this year, says that networking is in the blood of the city, which though small, is closely knit.
"It possibly originates from Cambridge University's system of colleges: a slightly disorganised, independent, federated, competing but also co-operating group that all have the same interests at heart," suggested Davidson by email.
"Also, technical people love setting up new things, the principle in http://xkcd.com/927/ probably applies."
This last view is echoed by Mauro Ciaccio, founder of CamTechNet and co-founder of Pitch and Mix and Creating Cambridge, all of which attempt to reach out across Cambridge's different technology sectors.
He says some groups are just trying to reinvent the wheel rather than work or expand within existing groups and while linking the niche organisations together would be the ideal, more often than not they fail to engage beyond their circles.Some of the feedback following the network's list asked for a calendar to show when these groups hold events, CamTechNet has such a calendar, but not enough groups are using it despite wanting it says Ciaccio.
Ciaccio's answer was to connect them on a social, rather than industry level, which he did with Creating Cambridge organisers of the Big Summer BBQ and the Christmas Parties, hugely successful cross-network events.
So where does this desire for small focused networking leave an organisation like Cambridge Network, which boasts some 1,500 members and is the largest of the networks. New CEO, Claire Ruskin, says she asked the same questions when she took the post in March this year - had Cambridge Network served its purpose?
"There is a much greater choice of network groups now than when Cambridge Network was set up 13 years ago, lots of interconnected people and all these groups can add a lot of value," says Ruskin.
"However, the place that Cambridge Network still fills is bringing together people from different sectors and different types of organisation, large and small, bridging gaps between different businesses, the universities and the world of Addenbrooke's. This can create more new ideas because you're meeting people outside your normal day job whereas the smaller more focused specific special interest groups tend to be people you could meet in your day job."
One of the things Cambridge Network is doing to bridge these gaps is build a new web site which is due to go live in the autumn (a window to it is the newly launched Recruitment Gateway), a welcome update to a 12-year old site.
One of things the new site will seek to address is how to connect to all these other networks, providing some valuable profile, something that may be more important than people would imagine.
Tony Short, co-organiser of Cambridge Mobile App Group and founder of iPhone development company, Jasper Apps, says he didn't consider setting something up within Cambridge Wireless, another well established and large local network, because he hadn't heard of them, despite his 11 years in the city.
"People are surprised when I tell them, but I hadn't," says Short. "I looked at Meetup.com, which I think is very influential, and used that so as not to clash with other events - Eventbrite too - and Cambridge Wireless was not on there.
"The new meet up sites are effective and our group communicates more on there than on Twitter, many of them aren't even on Twitter."
So a new generation of entrepreneurs are relying on social networks that the larger networks have yet to adopt. Pitch and Mix is on Meetup.com and Short is a frequent visitor of that event.
Sobia Hamid, founder of Data Insights, also went to Meetup.com for her new group. Hamid says using Meetup.com for Data Insights allows individuals with an interest in data to come along to events without having to be part of a larger network. Typically Cambridge Wireless or Cambridge Network SIGs are free for members, but not for non-members.
The process of setting up your own Meetup is also relatively quick. "I set up Data Insights and there were no fees, just £50 for the Meetup Group on the web site and its done, very few barriers to entry."
Hamid appreciates some of the potential advantages of linking with larger networks - if an overlap of topics and a mutual interest in each other developed they could be used to promote the Meetups or attract speakers.
However, there's an autonomy behind an independent group that leaves it free to grow as best suits the group, says Hamid, and Data Insights has a lot of potential for growth with plans for talks, events and possibly even conferences.
"We are niche in terms of data, but data itself divides into many sub-groups such as data analytics or business intelligence, so we are actually quite broad," says Hamid.
As well as software engineering, data and database manipulation are at the heart of the business models for most of the social network companies that are emerging - local investor and entrepreneur, Sherry Coutu, who holds a seat on the LinkedIn advisory board, has claimed that she doesn't invest in companies, she invests in databases.
This makes the Data Insight group one of the most exciting meetups in Cambridge as well as newest, indicating that there are still sections of the community that want to get together and talk about their particular passion.
Davidson believes it's ultimately healthy to have lots of groups and if they're no good they simply won't last: "The ones that are valuable will thrive, and the ones that aren't will either wither or amalgamate with others: we'll end up with a healthy balance."blog comments powered by Disqus