Palermo Valley en el Bs As Herald
The Palermo Valley
At a time when the Internet seems to have replaced direct contact, when people send emails instead of making phone calls and connect through social networks instead of getting together, a group of Internet geeks (paradoxically) aims to do exactly the opposite.
For more than two years ago, a networking event for people and enterprises related to the Internet industry has been organized in Buenos Aires City.
Palermo Valley — named after Silicon Valley, the San Francisco area that is home to some of the largest technology companies, and after the City neighbourhood where most Internet companies are located — is a non-profit that seeks to bring together and generate professional, business and personal contacts among the members of the Internet community.
Once every month and a half, hundreds of people leave their laptops and smartphones, interrupt their tweeting and stop commenting pictures on Facebook or watching videos on YouTube to participate in one of the Palermo Valley Nights (PVNs). They usually gather at the Planetarium or a bar to do some networking.
“The idea is to get connected and to keep on talking, in an informal spirit,” says Martín Vivas, a graphic designer who has been collaborating with Palermo Valley since 2008.
The PVNs attract people from different backgrounds who have in common their interest in the power and uses of the Web; not only Internet entrepreneurs, but also students, journalists, designers, artists and even accountants are registered in the Palermo Valley website.
“I come to PVNs to meet people who can help me with my project and see the things that are being created in this environment,” says Marina Ponzi, founder and director of Ladies Bunch, a networking event for women. “It is a very good way to meet people who work in the technology business,” adds Ponzi, who has been attending the meetings since 2008.
The idea of organizing the PVNs came up because, though the Internet community had grown a lot over the last years in Buenos Aires and people were connected online, they did not have direct contact with each other or were perceived as a group.
“There wasn’t a recognition of the Internet industry from outside or from us, colleagues; we only knew each other virtually,” says Vivas.
Twitter, the social network and microblogging website, helped make the interaction between Web users and workers more fluent. Four people who only knew each other online thought it would be a good idea to get together and organized a first informal meeting at a bar in Palermo, where many Internet companies had their offices but their employees did not get a chance to interact. About 100 people showed up for what turned out to be the first Palermo Valley Night in February 2008.
They continued organizing the meetings, and realized “there was need for something more,” explains Vivas. Apart from the social networking events, Palermo Valley also organizes trainings, meetings with businessmen from the Internet industry, lectures for entrepreneurs and the Elevator Pitches night. Last year’s end of the year party gathered over 600 people. Earlier this year, they also organized a trip for 40 web entrepreneurs to the original Silicon Valley, where they got to visit 50 technology companies, get an inside look of the industry and present their ideas to possible investors.
The events are organized by a group of volunteers who work in different areas related to the web industry and the technology sector.
They plan out the projects they want to work on at the beginning of the year and use their spare time to put them together, looking for venues to hold the meetings and sponsors to contribute with drinks or beer to carry on the conversation.
Pitching at the Konex
This month, the PVNs left their native neighbourhood and moved to Once, for the Elevator Pitches at the Centro Cultural Konex. The creators of four new Internet start-ups were given the chance to present their ideas, in a quick three-minute pitch in front of a jury formed by renowned experts from the technology and entrepreneurship sector.
“I presented my pitch because it seemed like a good opportunity to advertise the website, and get to know the experts’ opinions and advise,” says Mariela Sporn, founder and director of RealRef.com, launched last month.
The event was created to give new start-ups the possibility of showcasing their ideas. Out of 105 proposals, the organizers chose four new projects that solve the problem or need they detected and which have a chance of succeeding, explains Vivas. The selected ones were: Laralara.com, a website to download music by new artists; BeApp.net, which develops iphone applications; RealRef.com, a website where users can leave their opinions of the companies they work or worked in, and see other people’s references to take them into account when looking for a new job; and Capitolium.com.ar, a website that gathers statistical data related to parliamentary sessions, as well as the debates’ transcriptions and laws, offering free information to the public and a paid service for investigators and politicians.
“The balance was very positive, we made some interesting contacts and the possibility of collaborating with a couple of enterprises and a small opportunity related to financing came up, so we are very happy,” says Paul Caballero, from Capitolium, which will launch a private beta in December.
Valley for export
The Palermo Valley model — open, collaborative, free events, organized by volunteers — was so successful that it was adopted by other cities in Argentina, which also seek to promote their local Web industry and attract national and international attention. The networking events are organized in Salta, Mar del Plata, Neuquén, Mendoza, Comodoro Rivadavia and Tucumán, Santa Fe, Rosario, Córdoba and Bahía Blanca.
Over the last years, the valleys also expanded abroad, to Costa Rica, Venezuela, Panamá, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile Uruguay, Paraguay, and Mexico, where the Tequila Valleys are organized in nine cities. And in June, the first Palermo Valley New York was held at the Argentine Consulate in Manhattan.
Vivas says they are satisfied with the accomplishments of Palermo Valley, which over the last two years has grown, attracting more people to events and international attention.
“We didn’t have a defined Internet community, recognized by the industry and the government; now, we got them to put the eye on the Internet, not the software, industry,” he explains, adding that they helped “put Buenos Aires on the international map of web professionals.”
Gracias M. Belén Arce Terceros