There's a problem with 'networking' which is best described by how a person's contacts can be a commodity; something that can be bought, sold, or rented. It is as if people are trying to mechanize the process of building relationships in order to mass-produce their contact list in the same way one might collect baseball cards. Thankfully, there are events like EntConnect to make real relationships over a long weekend with an agenda full of fun and productive items.
The trouble with the mass-produced approach is the shallow nature of the connections made. A casual relationship is perfect for a sales person who only needs to have one meeting per year to get the order right. Normal conferences are remarkable at connecting people who are in a specific industry. Suppliers meet clients, new technology is unveiled, and an expo is setup as a trading floor for business cards. Keynote speakers often deliver whitewashed talks scrubbed of anything that could be seen as embarrassing or harmful, at the expense offering the whole truth.
But if a business person wants to make an actual connection where real stories are shared honestly, an entirely different approach is required. A forum where trust can be established over hours and days, with the same people returning year after year to tell their raw stories and set the candid tone.
EntConnect does exactly that. It is made of a group of engineers and entrepreneurs who have been getting together for the past 20 years bound not only by their interest in entrepreneurship, technology, and building their companies, but also their friendships. The long term relationships result in a conference comprised of the most honest and down-to-earth discussions. No grand-standing, hard-sells, or anyone saying 'I'm going to network the s*** out of this conference” to be found.
As mentioned earlier, there are multiple fun social events followed by a formal agenda made primarily from the attendees who have a lesson to share. While some may scoff at a day skiing in powder at Vail as a legitimate conference event, we had plenty of time to talk business. A 90 minute drive in and out, many lift rides, and the closing of Vail Pass for a few hours generated lots of interesting conversation. The same goes for Go Kart racing the next day. Friday's SparkFun tour led by CEO Nate was a brilliant addition thanks to the straightforward and open approach he has fostered throughout that organization.
Dave Grenewetzki kicked off the formal sessions to talk about biofeedback and how an entire industry has sprung up to make it easier for people to connect long term behavior to long term results. He shared his heavy use of the technology and his incredible results from weight loss to genetic analysis. Multiple successful entrepreneurs gave lessons based on 'If I knew then what I know now...” Dave Shaver spoke about managing personal wealth goals along with the goals of one's business; asking if what one wants to make personally lines up with the growth plans of the company. His advice? There is no 'right' answer, just be honest with yourself and realistic with the goals. Another striking talk was Gary Skinner's discussion on earnout and how the sale of his automated window blind business turned out. This morphed into a group discussion of how an engineer/entrepreneur can sell their company and where to get or buy advice. A couple of young entrepreneurs (high school/college) then gave talks about their experiences starting businesses, their struggles, and how they plan to take them to the next step as they progress through young adulthood.
To satiate everyone's hunger for technology, there were many presentations on new tech. I spoke about how dev boards are changing the face of electronic development, and there was show of other neat applications of tech like the electric imp, google analytics, and The Geek Group. All of the demos were available to showcase during breaks and the informal cocktail hours, making for some fun experiments!
It was a remarkable conference with a diverse mix of entrepreneurs; some having great exits, others not-so-great exits, and others still who are just getting started (like me). Everyone had something to learn, and something to teach. If you'd like to join us next Spring, keep an eye on the website!