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NextPlex creates place online for tech startups

Rochester Business Journal
November 16, 2012

If you want to know just how rich Western New York is when it comes to technology startups, look no farther than NextPlex.
 
NextPlex is a website that pulls together local technology resources, such as links to tech blogs, information on new mobile apps, a calendar of meet-ups and seminars, and discussion groups on everything from business cards to building a successful business. Local technology enthusiasts can join the site and create profiles for free.
 
NextPlex was launched last spring in Rochester. The platform proved so popular that its founders have launched versions in Buffalo, Syracuse and Ithaca and are eying Charlotte, N.C., as the next city.
 
Founders Terran Birrell, 27, and Lail Brown, 34, see NextPlex as a more advanced version of LinkedIn that focuses on collaboration, rather than employment.
 
"Something like LinkedIn is great for people moving from job to job who want a place to showcase their resume," Brown said. "But we're becoming a technology community where people are doing all sorts of things they want to show off that don't necessarily have to do with where they've worked.
 
"NextPlex is less about job titles that you've held and more about what projects you're working on that have room for potential collaboration."
 
Birrell is a western Massachusetts native and freelance designer who moved to Rochester last year. Brown is a Rochester Institute of Technology graduate and Web developer.
 
The two met last year in a local meet-up group for tech startups run by Brown. They began collaborating with other local tech meet-up groups on finding a way they could all work together.
 
"We started talking with tech groups that were focused on things like Ruby language programming and JavaScript," Brown recalled. "We started thinking about how we could create a Web presence that pulled together all of our events and cross-promoted them."
 
Brown began building the online system for NextPlex in an office in his garage. Birrell said the intention was for NextPlex to be just a Rochester-driven community website. However, things quickly evolved.
 
"Several larger cities, like Boston, Baltimore and Chicago, already had something like this," Birrell said.
 
"However, we found that there were other smaller cities like Rochester, with thriving tech communities, who had always wanted something like NextPlex but just didn't have the time or means to do it."
 
At the start of the summer, Birrell and Brown launched NextPlex in Buffalo, followed by Ithaca and then Syracuse. Syracuse is approaching 20 members while Ithaca is nearing 60. Rochester and Buffalo have been far more successful.
 
Rochester has slightly more than 200 members; Buffalo has roughly 250, Birrell said. However, the strongest presence for NextPlex could come in North Carolina. Birrell and Brown are in early talks with tech startup leaders about launching a version there. Charlotte has shown the most tech startup activity of any city NextPlex has prepared to launch in, Birrell said.
 
Michael Murphy, a Rochester Web designer and developer who specializes in creating websites and e-commerce for small businesses, said NextPlex can be a valuable tool for tech communities.
 
"There are a lot of cities that have all these burgeoning tech scenes that are flying under the radar," he said. "Every week or so, NextPlex sends email with a digest of the events that are taking place over the coming week and even farther out.
 
"It's nice to see a place online that has a list of all these events and organizations that can provide a number of resources to someone like me."
 
Brown said NextPlex plans to add several features soon, such as a resources section that showcases local tech groups, a section highlighting incubators and a directory of co-working spaces.
 
The one thing Brown and Birrell have not figured out is how to turn NextPlex into a profitable business. They would like to avoid advertisements.
 
Brown said the company has looked into creating premium memberships for users or marketing the site to employers who are seeking local talent in tech fields. However, nothing is firm yet.
 
"We're definitely putting in the amount of time you would for a full-time job," said Brown. "Now it's just figuring out that next step. Having this become my full-time job would be very, very nice."

11/16/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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