The Deep Tech revolution -- Part 2: Meetups

Welcome back to Zama’s ‘Deep Tech Series’, exploring activities and initiatives that, while seemingly confined to companies and startups heavily technology driven, can potentially be applied to other organizations. Thanks to insights of experts in cryptography, privacy, blockchain and Machine Learning, the aim is to provide useful guidance on how to implement these activities in any kind of tech-driven company and beyond.

In the first installment, we looked at the advantages and added value of releasing white papers, a type of research and data based content that can share information about a product or technology while showcasing the company’s knowledge and expertise. In this follow up, we'll look at the importance of engaging and growing your tech community through meetups.

A world connected

In its first ever “Meetup Measurement Report” released in 2023, the social platform for events and communities reported 60 million registered users worldwide. The platform has now become almost synonymous with hobbies-based gatherings, but during the pandemic we’ve seen an increase of providers and organizers of online events bringing together people with shared interests, or those looking to learn new skills.

For many, online meetups also became a way to upskill and stay up to date with the latest developments and advancements in their industry, especially within the technology sector which is particularly keen on sharing knowledge and encouraging exchange of ideas. For Deep Tech companies, online meetups tend to be gatherings of researchers, enthusiasts, and developers in the space where they present and share new ideas, or discuss problems and potential solutions the industry faces.

These types of open discussions are critical for encouraging growth in the industry from a developmental point of view, but also essential for centralizing and providing a structured platform for the innovation and trend setting of the industry for maximum benefit. Without meetups, countless opportunities might get lost in the noise, and communities might struggle to find their voice.

Audience, access, time, format: your essential meetup guide

Offline meetups will always be more rewarding socially as you’re meeting others face to face, but online is far better for reaching larger groups efficiently. Some participants to online meetups would never otherwise have been able to meet offline due to travel costs or other restrictions, and online events allow for greater flexibility and encourage participation.

If your meetups are sufficiently distributed, there will always be those who either cannot attend or will have to go to great lengths to match the available time. It’s most practical to then cater towards those who are the most active and provide the most value to the meetups. As having regular meetups can be taxing, it’s best to have meetups no sooner than once a week, usually once or twice a month, with additional breakout standups if needed.

While a meetup is best not managed like a classroom, it’s important to ensure at least some attendees have shareable knowledge in their respective fields. The more knowledgeable the attendees, the more productive and valuable the meetup will be overall.

For presentation-centric meetups, the challenge with this would then be to ensure that the knowledgeable parties remain incentivized to join. As this can be a chicken-egg problem for a lot of meetups when they’re first starting out, it helps to start out strong with presenters and attendees who are already known in the space to attract a critical mass as quickly as possible.

In some cases, choosing a guest over another might sometimes lead to controversy with your audience. Asking the community to openly discuss beforehand who they would like to have present, or propose names beforehand to gauge the community sentiment, can not only avoid discussions but be even more rewarding for the community.

One thing to consider is that presentations put participants in an audience mindset, where they are much less likely to engage. That is why Q&A time is important for these meetups, as it is a core part of the interactive experience. Q&A is best handled after the presentation is completely finished, but allows for questions to be submitted in queue during the presentation. Answering questions during presentations can present a dangerous situation where the presentation is unable to ever end and participants lose interest.

For Q&A, it’s also helpful to prepare a few seeding questions beforehand, to help stimulate discussion and questions from others. These can be preferably something specific about the speaker or their presentation, but also common questions you ask every presenter. It’s also important to define a scope of allowable questions to avoid off-topic questions or monologue tangents emerging.
Not all meetups have "guests" or presentations, and instead can sustain on previously arranged agenda schedules where certain topics are openly discussed. Agenda-driven meetups may take a little more planning and engagement, but they are far less likely to have that particular challenge short term as they both foster and are a direct result of consensus. For these meetups, it’s best to focus on ensuring the attendees are similarly experienced and feel empowered to share and participate.

Both types of meetups have their specific benefits for Deep Tech companies, it will be a matter to evaluate and decide which one fits your needs best. Agenda driven discussions can be better if the target audience are developers, while researchers may benefit more from presentation + Q&A style. You can also stagger the scheduling and benefit from both of them, or try to combine them into the same meetup slot time allowing.

Making it worthwhile

With the time and resources needed to plan, organize and deliver a single event, one might easily wonder why Deep Tech companies should make this kind of investment. First and foremost, meetups provide great marketing opportunities by associating known figures and entities with the industry and participants, legitimizing the efforts and vision of the company and its technology and products.

Most importantly, meetups stimulate community engagement and present said community as a unified living organism. By engaging the community, a company can enter an invaluable feedback loop; participating and leading meetups allows for discovery of ideas and opinions that would otherwise remain unpublished.

In our experience, meetups are a great way to engage our community of over 3000 researchers and developers interested in advancing Fully Homomorphic Encryption (FHE) and other secure computation techniques. We host regular meetups, featuring presentations from our members on various FHE related topics, and together we aim to advance this technology.

Whether deep tech or other industry, meetups provide a way of legitimizing the efforts and vision of those hosting and participating, while simultaneously promoting an information ecosystem where even competitors will want to join in the feedback loop that furthers innovation for everyone. By leading and participating in those meetups, you become the audible voice of the movement and depending on the quality of the meetup, topics, and participants, a staple in the industry no matter what the sector.

Image credit: Rido / Shutterstock

Ben Curtis is Research Relations Lead at Zama and works to build relationships with Academia as well as Zama's Partners. Prior to working at Zama, Ben was a postdoc at the Alan Turing Institute in London. He received a PhD in Cryptography from Royal Holloway University of London in 2020.

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