Heading into the exhibit hall at the KI Center in Green Bay, it was a bit hard to decide: sample the tables filled with delicious food made by area entrepreneurs or jump into conversation with entrepreneurs, business and education leaders and others from across the New North. But since this was NEW END, you could do both at the same time (although please remember to keep your mouth closed while chewing).
“This is a wonderful way to bring people together and network. Coming here is definitely worth our time. It’s a great way to renew old contacts and make new ones,” says Barb Dreger, director of marketing for Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton.
NEW END – which stands for Northeast Wisconsin Entrepreneur Networking Day – was created five years ago as a networking opportunity for area entrepreneurs. It’s a time for small business owners to gather for an afternoon and trade ideas and make connections, says Amy Pietsch, director of FVTC’s Venture Center. Last year, the event took on another dimension when it combined with the annual New North Summit. Added to the mix was the Taste of Entrepreneurship, where a dozen locally-owned restaurants from across the New North display their wares.
“It was a natural progression – bringing entrepreneurs together with business leaders and others throughout the New North. New North is committed to entrepreneurship and growing small business, so it made perfect sense to bring everyone together,” Pietsch says. “Imagine the ideas being exchanged!”
With that in mind, participants balanced their plates with nibbles from Titletown Brewing Company and Republic Chophouse in Green Bay to cookies from Leonard’s Designs of Hortonville, to name a few of the vendors, while catching up with old friends and making new ones.
“I saw someone here I haven’t seen in 20 years – it was amazing,” Dreger says. “This is definitely the primo networking event of the year.”
This year’s gathering was the first for Mark Gehrke, the owner of Mandala Life Media, an Appleton consulting firm specializing in social media.
“It was a wonderful networking opportunity to reconnect with people I’ve already met and develop new connections. There was really the opportunity to strike up conversations with fellow attendees,” says Gehrke, who was a panelist on the afternoon’s social media session. “I’m excited to continue developing relationships beyond this great one-day networking event.”
Restaurateurs involved in the Taste of Entrepreneurship not only get the opportunity to showcase their offerings, but they can also meet fellow business owners, which isn’t always easy when you have a restaurant to run.
With competition so intense in the restaurant industry, being at an event like NEW END was an easy call to make, says Brian Schalk, brand ambassador for Appetize, which operates the Appleton and Green Bay HuHot restaurants.
“It is one thing to just toss up a sign and wait for patrons to find you, but we at Appetize/HuHot see it a little differently. NEW END is a great opportunity for us to interact with new and existing patrons, showcase our product and bounce ideas off other business owners,” he says.
Holding NEW END once a year makes it easier for small business owners to attend. “Entrepreneurs are incredibly busy people. They may not have time for a monthly meeting, but they do have time to carve out one afternoon a year to network and learn,” Pietsch says.
In addition to the Taste of Entrepreneurship and the social media panel, NEW END also featured a keynote address by former Packers player LeRoy Butler, an entrepreneur himself after purchasing a car dealership in Waupaca.