Dennis Bone has been a fixture in the New Jersey business community for decades, with 33 years at Verizon New Jersey and its predecessor companies.
And he spent the last 12 of those years, from 2000 to 2012, as president and CEO — leading the company as it transitioned from voice carrier services to the more diverse voice, data and video company it is today.
But these days he’s serving as the inaugural director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at the Montclair State University School of Business. Bone established the Montclair Entrepreneurs meetup, which provides entrepreneurs from all stages with resources including presentations from industry insiders, networking and the chance to pitch your company and receive feedback from established entrepreneurs.
NJBIZ talked with Bone about the current state of startup culture in New Jersey and the role these meetup groups play in building the momentum of the entrepreneurial community.
NJBIZ: What specific benefits can startup companies glean from joining these networks?
Dennis Bone: Many of these startups don’t have a lot of resources. They have an idea, they have some support, but they’re out there trying to find partners or relationships that help them fill out their business model and get their product or service off the ground. These meetups are where this takes place.
And there’s a lot more people there than just entrepreneurs: there’s always accounting firms and law firms that cater to this crowd, digital marketing people. It’s just kind of an efficient marketplace where startups and entrepreneurs can find partners and other folks who can help them with their business.
NJBIZ: As the volume of membership has increased, has the number of meetup groups also increased? How do you discern the effective from the ineffective?
DB: That’s absolutely the case. It’s such a phenomenon and in our center here, what we try to do is put on really valuable events for the startup community. That’s why we are getting so many people that are joining our team. The meetups should be nurturing of and adding value to the entrepreneurial community through the speakers and programs that are presented, but also the networking.
NJBIZ: Is this proliferation of groups connecting or fracturing the startup and entrepreneurial community in the state?
DB: I think the challenge is that we’re all so busy. We can only afford to be out so many nights a week at a meetup. I was looking at the profile of one person on my meetup page and they belonged to 47 meetups. So, you can’t be participating in all those events.
But I think it’s different for different people. Let’s say you were offering a service to the startup community and if you are a member of 47 meetups and you’re getting notifications on 47 upcoming meetings, you can take your pick on which ones may look valuable for you.