It seems a lifetime ago when Neil Cocker joined my second ever TweetUp in early 2012 and told me about his plans for a tech based community in Wales. A few months later and 20 of us sat around a table planning what would take over a year to realise.
November 21st 2012 we incorporated Cardiff Start C.I.C., a community interest company with the ambition to connect and promote tech startups in the capital. At the time there were a few pockets of activity, but we wanted to connect them all under one independent umbrella: Cardiff Start.
The grand event
We needed a launch event to get people talking and excited about what we could achieve if we built a tech focused community. Neil managed to talk Cardiff Council into letting us use City Hall to host the launch event. It took over 18 months from initial inception to launching, but gosh it was worth it...!
Community takes work
That, however, was just the beginning. We were very lucky to have so many great people helping us with building the company and infrastructure to make things work. Karolo Design made our website for free; I took on the company admin and finance, while Neil ran PR and networked night and day.
We had councillor friends who helped open doors and community leaders like Gareth Jones who spread the word and advised us when needed. There were coworking spaces like IndyCube that had recently started up who gave us free space for our meetings and pubs and bars around town who let us set up projectors in their back rooms for our meetups. It really was a community effort.
The central focus, though never ideal, was a facebook group that by the end of 2013 had a few hundred users and we were ecstatic.
Over the years we all volunteered our time to run events, get guest speakers, host workshops and advise public bodies such as Welsh Government when asked. We wanted to make a case for Cardiff and Wales as a great place to start and run a tech business. We did this aside from our own companies we were running.
We also spent hours curating and moderating the facebook group; which quickly started taking on a life of its own. By 2017 we had over 3000 members. Sitting back and watching people help each other, giving advice that could have cost thousands, for free, was just inspiring.
But it was a lot of work and those of us who remained on the board towards the end of 2018 saw just how much of a toll it took on our personal time and all, of course, voluntary.
Coming to an end
For me personally, my time came in 2018. I had struggled to grow my own business due to the workload at Cardiff Start (including one or two noteworthy events hosting a Royal for Pitch@Palace at Tramshed Tech). Neil and I decided to wind down the official company and just let the community run itself on Facebook while we concentrated on our own businesses.
It was the end of an era, but we like to think we all created something that helped others and hopefully made founders feel less alone.
Out of the ashes
None of us could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic. While in-person events obviously came to an end and many of us felt insecure to start new businesses, the community on facebook found itself again, helping each other claim bounce back loans, furlough money and survival advice.
The community has kept growing too and today we count over 4300 members, with hundreds of active comments each week. The quality of discussion remains high and with some light touch moderation, the community still shares advice freely with one another.
We never did count how much economic impact Cardiff Start had, but I know the connections and friendships that have been made over the last ten years will continue to benefit businesses and the start up community around South Wales well into the future.