Startup Round

How cocktails could catapult your business dream

The old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” may be more pertinent than ever in the business world. Networking is always important in any business but, let’s face it, it can be tiresome. That’s why John Chason of Metrix Ventures, along with Lester Hutt of BevShots and Adam Kaye of Silicon Tally, teamed up to launch Startup Round, a unique, informal way for entrepreneurs to gather and share ideas … and an adult beverage or two.

Cities like Gainesville and Atlanta have this type of networking event as well. In fact, it was Chason’s daughter, a student at the University of Florida, who first introduced him to the entrepreneurial gathering in Gainesville. Their networking happy hour, called Startup Hour, spurred Chason to get one started in Tallahassee. He recruited Hutt and Kaye, also entrepreneurs, to expand their sphere of influence and pull people in from all age groups and experience levels.

“Tallahassee is full of ambient talent, and this is drawing it out,” Chason said. “We want to grow entrepreneurship organically in Tallahassee.”
The Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at Florida State University has stepped up to support the group and sponsor the monthly gathering, which is held the second Thursday of each month at The Wine Loft.

“It is really good to have regular events where people come together and discuss issues so an entrepreneur doesn’t feel like the lone wolf out there,” said Adam Kaye, whose Silicon Tally business aims to bring more digital technology industries, including Internet technology, web/mobile application development, digital media and graphic design, to Tallahassee.  
“Some other business groups have events, but many times those are aimed at generating leads and not as much on the mentoring side,” said Lester Hutt, who started his own business after moving to Tallahassee to help his wife with her family’s business.

With a master’s degree in chemistry and a wide array of experience — from working on the Mars Rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to being a part of Apple’s development team for the Powerbook and the first iPod — Hutt had always wanted to start his own business. Despite his wealth of experience, however, he had to learn to be an entrepreneur.

He launched BevShots MicroArt after he had worked as a consultant at FSU looking at ways research could be turned into businesses. BevShots are beers, wines and cocktails photographed under a microscope and featured as modern art. The “intoxicating blend of art and science” has been turned into prints, scarves, neck ties and bar accessories. Hutt launched the company when he teamed up with FSU research scientist Michael Davidson, who developed the unique art through the microphotography technique. The products are completely produced in the United States.

Partly based on his experiences, Hutt said, “We saw a need for this type of happy hour. Nothing like it existed in Tallahassee. It is almost mandatory to build your network to be successful.”

Although in its infancy, Startup Round draws about 50 percent student and 50 percent working professionals, including entrepreneurs, investors and FSU faculty.

“I don’t think there are that many venues or forums for a group of people of all ages and all backgrounds coming together businesswise,” said Kaye. “Startup Round brings a mix of participants together you normally would not find at other events. I do not know of any other entrepreneur-type group.”

So far, one new business has launched as a result of the monthly networking events. Chason, whose business is an early-stage and startup venture consulting firm, was the first to partner with someone who has developed software that mixes social and project management. Another larger deal that involves a chain of businesses is also in the works, according to Chason, who jokes that the unofficial motto of the group is: “I went to happy hour and a startup broke out.” He adds, “When you get the right people in the room and bring people together, they can create jobs and wealth.”

And Chason believes the informal nature of the event is working. “Everyone is engaged in good conversation. They aren’t talking about football. They see it is a valuable source of support and education.”
Kaye said the group meetings are especially important to help with morale during tough economic times, “when you feel like you are the only one out there. You’d be amazed how important keeping your morale up is to the success of a new business. Collaboration and bouncing ideas off of other people is very important. Even friendly competition can help.”

The Startup Round is seen as the first step to bigger events. “We are still in the cocoon,” said Chason. “This is the first step, and then we want to take this thing to the next level.”

One goal of the group is to have more mentors and investors. There are plenty of people with ideas, but to execute them they need capital. “There is money out there. We need people to meet and then it snowballs,” Chason said. “Tallahassee may never be Silicon Valley or Research Triangle, but it will help our local economy. This is the way businesses start. Microsoft started as a small business.”

Kaye echoes the sentiments. “What is really good about Tallahassee is there’s a lot of human capital and a high quality of life in relation to a low cost of living. So you can get great talent for lower capital in this area.”

However, he admits the environment could be better, suggesting more people need to be willing to recycle their wealth into the local economy. Investors need to be willing to take risks and be okay with failure, he said.

“It is really great when you help someone start a career, but there is much more incentive when you launch someone in a business. There is more willingness to make things happen on an individual basis when you’ve got skin in the game,” said Kaye.

Startup Round is held the second Thursday of each month at The Wine Loft, 1240 Thomasville Rd., Suite 100, Tallahassee, Fla. You can learn more about Startup Round on Facebook.

Keys to Networking

Startup Round founder John Chason shares ways to effectively network, which he calls a “contact” sport.

“Networking is one of the most important activities you can do to help start and grow a business, especially in Tallahassee. Doing business on a face-to-face basis makes networking more personal and gives you a chance to build relationships with specific people, or groups of people, that have a more direct relation to your goals and objectives,” Chason says.

“I created Startup Round to get one group of people together in one room and that would be people specifically interested in startups and new ventures. When you network with people that share the same interest, and you can talk one on one, credibility and trust can be gained much quicker than other methods.  But, this is not to say that all of your networking effort be relegated to just one group.

“There are many other opportunities to network with people that may be able to help you indirectly. For example, if you are starting a business and all of your experience is in finance, you should absolutely network within marketing, technology and any other disciplines that will be required for business success. Some of the most successful startups were founded by a ‘business’ founder and a ‘technical’ founder.

“Some of the keys to effective networking are, first and foremost, making sure you are in the networking group that is aligned with your goals and objectives.”

Here are Chason’s other tips:

  • Be ready to deliver your “Elevator Pitch.” For networking events, this is a 30- to 60-second introduction of who you are, what you do and what you are looking for. This will help both you and the person with whom you are networking to discover if and how you can help each other. It is a two-way street.
  • Make each conversation meaningful. If it’s not, move on to the next person. Don’t try to “hit up” everybody at the event. It’s more about the quality of the conversations and not the quantity.  If you are new, don’t hesitate to ask a veteran of the group for an introduction to some of the attendees who may be able to help you — and those that you may be able to help.
  • Build relationships before you ask for anything. It takes time for people to get to know you, much less trust you. Disciplined patience could be the rule here. Strive to get to understand others’ goals and objectives, and then they will want to know everything about you and be willing to help.
  • Get contact info and stay in touch. Networking is a “contact” sport. Have a hefty supply of business cards, and make sure that the right people have one.  Again, it’s not how many business cards you can hand out, it’s how many cards can you get into the hands of those that are best positioned to be able to help you or that you are able to help. Make the most of your networking time, and schedule follow-up meetings to further discover any mutually beneficial issues.
  • Just do it! And stick to it. You must attend, and attend regularly, to gain favorable exposure. People will do business with, provide help and give introductions to people that they network with on a regular basis. It shows that you truly care about the people involved, their goals and the purpose of the event.