Where good entrepreneurs go to get better

Area’s networking events go well beyond tried and true

By Brittany Nicole McGhee

“Entrepreneurship isn’t a one-man show. You are the company that you keep,” says young Nashville entrepreneur Clark Buckner. He is a recent Belmont graduate, the founder of Buck Branding, and host and producer of The Entrepreneurship Podcast. He says connectedness is the secret sauce for getting ideas off the ground and he’s “a big believer in the “butterfly effect” which is all about how one small thing, action or relationship can trigger massive results and outcomes through a series of events.

“You never know when you shake someone’s hand how both of your lives can be changed forever,” he says. “That may seem a little exaggerated, but it’s a mindset I carry with me everywhere.”

Networking can help entrepreneurs grow as leaders by giving them a peer group with whom to exchange ideas, experiences, encouragement and constructive criticism. There are networking opportunities in Nashville for entrepreneurs in any industry and alternative options for those who don’t like the format of usual networking events. Knowing how to navigate the waters and find the networking opportunities that will yield the most benefits is important for those who are serious about becoming better entrepreneurs.

The Nashville Entrepreneur Center is rightfully known as the “front door” for the entrepreneur community in Nashville and is the best place to start for anyone looking to grow their network and knowledge base. The center hosts a variety of monthly events that are typically filled to capacity with successful and aspiring entrepreneurs from a broad range of industries and backgrounds.

The EC’s SipIT early-morning coffee and panel discussions feature talks about the process and experience of building a high-growth business. Guest speakers include some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the Nashville community, such as Marcus Whitney of Moontoast and Sherry Stewart Deutschmann of LetterLogic. Similarly, the EC’s BuildIT evening workshops are led by experienced Nashville leaders and are focused on teaching attendees methods of building ideas and improving their existing businesses. These events both offer the chance to ask questions of the guest speakers and network before and after the talks.

For those who want to unwind and meet new people in a more casual environment while having a drink, the EC’s DrinkIT events are held at the end of the workday at local watering holes. Or you can attend a Nashcocktail monthly gathering at Sam’s in the Village. Nashcocktail aims to connect marketers, developers and any type of digital creative in a relaxed atmosphere. Newcomers and regulars can enjoy a drink together while the host, Dave Delaney, ensures a valuable experience for everyone who walks in the door by facilitating connections. Dave is arguably the king of networking in Nashville and has launched Nashcocktail, Geek Breakfast, PodCamp Nashville and BarCamp Nashville.

Unconferences are free yearly events for networking and sharing knowledge and new ideas specific to certain industries. Attendees drive the content of an unconference, which makes each event a unique experience. BarCamp is the premier technology event in Nashville is now in its seventh year. PodCamp acts as a forum for bloggers, podcasters, online marketers and anyone involved in digital media. ProductCamp is for anyone involved in the development, marketing, and management of products.

“Unconferences are some of my favorite times in Nashville because they’re totally user-generated events and you get to make the experience what you want it to be,” says Buckner. “It’s a special time when creatives from Nashville and the Southeast come together for a day that they create for themselves and the people they serve.”

For entrepreneurs who don’t care much for the atmosphere of official networking events, there are everyday alternatives that can fulfill the need to meet and connect with new people. Jayme Hoffman, founder of Acacia Interactive, doesn’t typically participate in networking events because he feels they can often be empty and some attendees are only looking to network for their own best interest.

Hoffman, pictured at right, has found that some of his greatest relationships have come from places where networking may not have been standard. Nashville has a unique volunteer spirit, he says, and engaging with the community is a practical and effective alternative to networking events.

“Volunteering is a great way to meet people and generally everyone who is there is a really quality human being,” Hoffman says. “Those are the kinds of people I like to surround myself with and enjoy working with.”

He also challenges himself to meet three new people every time he is in an airport, adding that “so many people that fly are insanely fascinating and usually pretty successful.”

There are many options for those looking to connect with others in Nashville’s rapidly growing entrepreneur community. And, just as networking with the right people is an important success factor, it’s just as vital to approach it in the right way.

“A good network for a young entrepreneur is extremely important,” says Hoffman. “One can easily build a network of some of the greatest human beings on this planet just by being selfless and passionate.”