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Central Coast Business Community Collaborates Through 805connect Network

Online directory links entrepreneurs in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties

A local financial planner needs help creating a website. A startup is trying to craft a brand or slogan to smartly market its business.

Different problems, but both could find community-based solutions through 805connect, a free online networking platform touting itself as the “official business directory for the 805 region.”

Think of the site as a LinkedIn for locals, designed to showcase all kinds of businesses along the Highway 101 corridor from Paso Robles to the Simi Valley.

The venture highlights entrepreneurial happenings in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties in the name of lasting economic vitality.

805connect launched in April as a public and private effort under the direction of Mark Sylvester, a Santa Barbara entrepreneur who in 2003 founded introNetworks, the software company creating and running the networking platform.

So far, 750 users have signed up for the service.

Individuals, businesses and service groups can create accounts, with each searchable profile outlining skills, what resources or services they can render and eventual aspirations. Users can message through the platform or add to a forum discussion.

“It’s just been organically growing,” Sylvester told Noozhawk. “I want to make a difference. The diversity of interest is phenomenally interesting.”

Sylvester said the idea for 805connect came out of meetings of local business owners, education advocates, government officials, nonprofits and other stakeholders wanting to retain and grow area business.

Local business owner Mark Sylvester has taken the lead creating and promoting 805connect. (805connect photo)

The Santa Barbara Foundation even provided some seed money to get something started.

As someone who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara more than 40 years, Sylvester knows challenges facing business, with the high cost of living at the top.

Sylvester’s background in visualization — he helped found the since-sold graphics company Wavefront Technologies — has shaped the interactive nature of the site.

Local business leaders are still spreading word of 805connect, which will be a priority for the new county-funded Economic Vitality Team of Santa Barbara County, according to Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce President Ken Oplinger.

Because of the nature of some businesses, he said, people don’t always understand what they do or how they could help fellow entrepreneurs, especially in the technology sector.

“I think what Mark’s come up with is a great way to try and provide connections within the Tri-County region,” Oplinger said. “We really do feel like there’s potential for this to be a real benefit for business in the region.”

Other communities across the country have also encouragingly reached out, Sylvester said, calling 805connect a model for collaborative economic development.

The technology powering 805connect has also been used to connect attendees of TEDx conference events, hosted at a local level in communities.

In order for the network to work — and become sustainable, one day down the line — Sylvester said entrepreneurs of all ages must lead the fun, inclusive effort.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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