Virtual Entrepreneurial Meetups: We Innovate Together
As with everything these days, we are all constantly contending with a new reality. Those events, activities, and opportunities which we would normally have enjoyed in person have been delayed, pivoted, and in many cases, canceled. Here at 1Berkshire, one thing that we know has not been canceled is the motivation and creativity of entrepreneurs and startups who have decided to make their home in the Berkshires.
Soon after the announcement of social distancing guidelines in March, we found ourselves with a variety of programs we could no longer host the way we always had, including our monthly Entrepreneurial Meetups. These gatherings, sponsored by the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, have been a mainstay of our Economic Development team for nearly five years, they are an opportunity for entrepreneurs to connect, engage, and build collaborative relationships across community and industry boundaries. Moving around the region, from venue to venue, guest speaker to guest speaker, these had become part of the regular rhythm for many individuals in our economic ecosystem. Suddenly we were faced with the reality that we could not continue the Entrepreneurial Meetups as we knew them.
After numerous calls and side conversations with community members mentioning that they missed the meetups, we took the leap and decided we would work to adapt the format to a virtual space. Now held on Zoom, our meetups have taken on a new life alongside the familiar aspects. The challenges are there, including not being able to have friendly side-bar conversations with new connections, but the opportunities that that online meetups have revealed are as interesting as they are bountiful.
By creating a digital space for innovators to come together, we are reaching people who had not been able to travel and attend previously. No longer required to drive (in some cases) an hour or more to network, instead, they have been able to hop on from the comfort of their home office. Similarly, some have been encouraged to become more active in discussions. Part of our monthly meetups now being break-out conversations, in which attendees are clustered into topical themes that they identified as areas of interest for discussion. It both has given them a chance to discuss the challenges or issues they are facing and also has motivated them to engage with individuals they may have never met prior.
For the 1Berkshire staff, the meetups have also become a way for us to learn, firsthand, how some of our small businesses here in the Berkshires have adapted to survive and (in some cases) to thrive. Whether it is Berkshire Paint and Sip developing mail-order paint kits so artists can paint along with the online class at home (with wine pairing suggestions!), or Currency Coffee creating a pay-it-forward opportunity for customers to caffeinate essential workers of their choice, we are seeing small businesses in the Berkshires tenaciously innovate in the face of this pandemic.
So, we endeavor ahead, together. We are meeting, at least once a month, to connect, learn, and inspire one another. We may not know exactly what the future holds, but through these virtual Entrepreneurial Meetups, at least we know we aren’t alone, and that there are others like us looking to advance, adapt, and succeed in the new economy. We hope you will come along for the ride.