Entrepreneurial Meetups Gone Virtual
It’s been more than a year since the world as we knew it came to an abrupt halt. This has changed life in many ways, including 1Berkshire’s programming. One program that we were able to pivot was our Entrepreneurial Meetups. These networking events for area entrepreneurs, sponsored by the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank. These meetups used to move around to host businesses throughout the Berkshires, gathering people who were operating businesses or were thinking about starting them. These events involved mingling over coffee or cocktails and a brief talk and Q&A with a guest speaker, typically from the business that was hosting us. It quickly became clear that none of that would be possible during a pandemic where meeting in person was not an option. After canceling the meetup we had planned for March 2020, we began to think about how we could relaunch these monthly gatherings.
Beginning last May, we launched our Virtual Entrepreneurial Meetups. Like the rest of the world, we took our formerly in-person events to Zoom. Although perhaps not exactly the same as our in-person events, they have proven over the past year to be a great way for entrepreneurs to come together as they navigate starting or operating a business during a pandemic. Meetups still begin with brief introductions from the assembled group, leading into a discussion from the featured speaker of the ”host” business. After a short talk and a Q&A, we make use of Zoom’s breakout rooms to create smaller group discussions among attendees, similar to the side conversations that occurred when we met up in real life.
Our first Meetup in a virtual space in May featured Michelle Iglesias and Laura Wainwright of Berkshire Paint & Sip in Pittsfield. They discussed the pivot to virtual workshops they had been hosting, and the innovation of mailing supplies (or offering pickup) to participants. It was an amazing start to our virtual series, and we can’t thank Michelle and Laura enough for kicking off this program with us!
In June, we spoke with Currency Coffee owner George Shoemaker, who told attendees about Currency’s “give one, give one” program, which launched in the early days of the pandemic. Through this program, Currency customers bought boxes of hot coffee for frontline workers, and Currency matched these donations with a donated box of coffee to a different group of frontline workers, resulting in 266 gallons of hot coffee delivered to more than 1,000 frontline workers across the Berkshires.
Our July meetup was hosted by Marc Freedman, owner of InTouch Day Spa in Williamstown. Marc explained his background in massage and provided a virtual tour of his beautiful studio on the Green River. At the time of our meetup, he was just about to reopen, and explained a number of the changes he had made to help his customers feel safer during COVID.
In August, we were joined by Steven Valenti of Steven Valenti’s Clothing for Men in Pittsfield. He discussed the challenges of operating a retail store that places an emphasis on in-person interaction and customer service, but also his optimism for the way the Berkshires had come together and worked toward recovery and how federal programs were helping local business.
Our September Meetup was hosted by Mindy Miraglia of Berkshire Camino in Lee, which offers guided walking and hiking experiences inspired by her pilgrimage journeys on Spain’s Camino de Santiago. Mindy discussed her experiences in starting a business during a pandemic and what she had learned over her first several months.
In October, our host was Colleen Taylor, owner of the Freight Yard Pub and the Trail House Kitchen and Bar in North Adams. Colleen discussed her experiences operating restaurants before and during the pandemic and shared advice for the group. She also discussed early details of her plan to open a new business.
We did not host a Meetup in November due to proximity to Thanksgiving, but in December we heard from Jim Bronson of the newly-opened Your CBD Store in Pittsfield. Jim shared details of his entrepreneurial background in food service management, as well as his passion for CBD and his perspective on opening a business during a pandemic.
In January, our guest speaker was Meg Sanders, CEO of Canna Provisions in Lee. Meg shared her experiences as a cannabis entrepreneur in Colorado and Massachusetts and discussed Canna’s philosophy and plans for the future. It was a great insight into a new and exciting business in the region!
Michael Eagle, owner of The Studio at Beaver Mill, was our host for February’s Entrepreneurial Meetup. Michael took attendees on a virtual tour of The Studio in North Adams and discussed his background as the owner of Rhythm Monster and his hopes for how Berkshire residents might make use of The Studio as the pandemic comes to a close and life returns to a more normal pace.
Most recently, we were joined by Joad Bowman and Austin Oliver, co-owners of the reimagined Thistle & Mirth in Pittsfield. They discussed their entrepreneurial backgrounds and how they’ve been working on reopening Thistle & Mirth, a well-loved craft beer bar, as a combination bar and ramen restaurant.
Throughout this challenging year, our Entrepreneurial Meetups were an island of dependability in a frequently-changing world. Each month, they have offered an opportunity for entrepreneurs from across the Berkshires (and beyond, with attendees tuning in from Cape Cod, New York, and California) to link up and discuss what they have been working on, get a peer’s perspective on a challenge, or just reconnect to friendly faces and a familiar experience. We will return to in-person meetups as conditions allow for us to gather again, but in the true spirit of entrepreneurship, we’re happy to have made a successful pivot in the meantime. We hope to see you at one of our meetups sometime soon- keep an eye on our Events Calendar to see when our next Meetup will be held!