A 25-Year-Old Boy Wonder Wants to Make This a Tech Town

At the next NYTM, on Dec. 9, candidates for the position made their case for building a “21st-century” organization. Mr. Westheimer gave a five-minute proposal before a relatively thin crowd. His plan is to create an “ecosystem” of the city’s tech organizations, with representatives from each sector getting together to organize and open communication lines. Each group, whether angel investors or developers or university professors, will have an ambassador on his NYTM executive board. He sees a kind of exclusive social network being formed so that these leaders can make the city’s tech industry stronger. Which would make our city stronger, too.

ORGANIZING IS PRACTICALLY in Mr. Westheimer’s blood. He grew up on the outskirts of Cincinnati in Batavia, Ohio, where his mother organized a home-schooling community with three other mothers that eventually grew to include 350 families throughout the Cincinnati suburbs. Mr. Westheimer, as leader of the baseball-card-trading group, published the sports section of the community’s newsletter. He was home-schooled until high school, where he was president of the Junior Statesmen club and a varsity track athlete and soccer player. He studied politics and sociology at Brandeis, and was voted onto the executive board of the student union, which included Ben Brandzel, founder of MoveOn.org’s Student Action group; Lauree Hayden, an organizer for SEIU; and Josh Sugarman, a former political strategist for progressive Boston Democrats, among others. “The administration was terrified of us,” Mr. Westheimer said.

He graduated in 2005 and worked on a mayoral political campaign in Cincinnati before moving to New York, where he got a job on Wall Street, which he hated. He quit in the summer of 2006 to start BricaBox, which worked like a blogging tool, with more structure and social content mashed in. He launched the publishing platform in Feb. 26, 2008. He closed down the project in June, volunteered for the Obama campaign for a few months, and has showed up at almost every NYTM for the past two years. He served a stint as technology strategist for National Public Media and has organized numerous community events and parties. But the NYTM will be one of his biggest challenges yet.

Mr. Westheimer plans to keep the actual NYTM pretty much the same as it’s been. There will still be a monthly meeting where entrepreneurs can present their new projects. He wants Mr. Heiferman to keep MC’ing, and maybe bring on a few entertaining guest hosts, like the F-bombing Charles Forman of iminlikewithyou.com. He’s hoping to make the unofficial, post-NYTM mixer more publicly known to outsiders of the tech community’s inner circle.

This week, Mr. Westheimer is consulting with Mr. Heiferman and Dawn Barber, the NYTM’s co-organizer, to map out a strategy and build an advisory board before the next Meetup, on Jan. 6. He’s also trying to woo folks onto his Organizer Board. He’s already called on Charlie O’Donnell—the CEO of Path101, a Web site that helps people find their best career moves through social networking—to lead the tech education sector, and Whitney Hess—a user experience designer and social networking expert—to be an ambassador for designers.

Mr. Westheimer said he’s still working on what the new NYTM will look like behind the scenes. “I’m greatly influenced by the model put together by [another grass-roots tech networking organization founded by Mr. O’Donnell] NextNY. You don’t have titles and you don’t have roles.

“The challenge is keeping it egoless: How do you add structure without adding ego and feeling like you’re not stepping on anybody’s toes and still including everybody?” Mr. Westheimer said.

If he can figure that out, we predict a bright future for young Mr. Westheimer.

greagan@observer.com