Tech Talk: GoConnect Focuses on Networking at Conventions

Katy Smith

Conventions and events can be a great way to meet business contacts. But sometimes the format makes it difficult: You might want to network with others in your industry or from your home state, but how do you know who's who?

To make that connection, entrepreneur Jeff Taylor developed GoConnect in concert with Columbus-based Big Kitty Labs last year. Data and location-based services are at the heart of the idea, which for now can be used as a social networking/dating app or for business networking.

GoConnect lets users filter by interests, location and other criteria, and it collects useful information using virtual data checkpoints around the city. The app can tell marketers and city planners where people go when they visit Columbus and how long they stay there. “It feeds into the whole connected city-smart city idea,” Taylor says. “It tells you how people interact with your city.”

Taylor has had encouragement from the local tourism and convention industry. Earlier this year, the app was featured at GospelFest and the Rita Fuller Yates Lifestyle Expo, where Taylor gained critical feedback from users. The idea was one of 10 finalists at the National Urban League Conference's pitch competition, which was held in Columbus this August.

Following that win, Taylor attended a Rev1 Ventures Learning Lab. “It helped pinpoint our market,” Taylor says.

Will GoConnect achieve startup success?

“If GoConnect is able to further identify their sweet spot (e.g., market tier and type of event)—that can help limit competitive overlap. Because the tech lends itself to multiple uses (dating apps, business networking, etc.), it becomes important to choose the best opportunity quickly and limit the time spent ‘dabbling' in adjacent spaces.” --Potential investor: Bob Fisher, CEO at Fisher Advisors & angel investor

“The reality is there are so many people and networking opportunities at your typical conference, and most of them may not be the most relevant. This app has the potential to connect people with similar learning objectives, industries, or geographic locations to decrease on the time and energy spent on conversations that distract from your networking goals for the conference.” --Potential user: Eileen Kline, director of client services, NR Media Group

“The idea of a networking app has merit, but it would be important to keep dating and networking functions separate—as in not even in the same app. Most networkers want to keep it professional, and this seems to blur the line.” --Industry expert: Derek Grosso, CEO & founder, Columbus Young Professionals Club (CYP Club)

Make Your Cell Business-Friendly

Seeking to diversify its portfolio, Pickerington-based Volunteer Energy has launched what's essentially a business phone system in an app. The new product, Netlines, gives small business owners the features of a traditional business phone—multi-line conference calling, auto-attendant, dial-by-name, extension-to-extension dialing, and even call recording—that many mobile phones lack.

Small-business owners are increasingly using their smartphones as their primary business phones, says Jerry Haines, Volunteer Energy's marketing director and co-founder of Netlines.

The natural gas and electricity supplier has been around for 25 years and has 500,000 customers in four states, Haines says.“We wanted to have a diversification plan that we thought made sense,” he says. “We have about 30,000 small-business customers, and we looked at different options. This is the one we kept coming back to.”

Users can choose a monthly subscription package—unlimited minutes are $29.95.

Haines says the company plans to hire six to 10 employees in programming, sales and marketing over the coming months.