Thursday, May 3, 2012

Networking at its finest, GroundUp Houston...

...check it out.

     If your entrepreneurial voice is whispering in your ear, “let’s take action, let’s find out if we have something to pursue,” I know a place to vet that voice. It is a networking group called GroundUPHouston, that meets the first Thursday of every month, from 8:30 am until 10 am, at the Dessert Gallery on Post Oak. The group is diverse and offers opportunities to people who are interested in following their passion in regard to a start-up of their own. GroundUPHouston was founded by Jerald Reichstein, president of Bouncing Pixels, an interactive design studio, a successful startup in its own right. I asked Mr. Reichstein how and why GroundUPHouston was created. He was kind enough to respond to my questions.

JB: How did you come up with the concept of Groundup?
JR: I've been mixing in Houston's start-up scene for many years. There's a lot of creativity and energy that's going unnoticed, especially at the bootstrapping level. I'm one of those people whose brain doesn't have an off switch when it comes to ideas and business opportunities. I like talking to people with similar qualities, or should I say issues, who also want to build a better mousetrap.
JB: What is the significance of the name?
JR: GroundUP seems to fit the way bootstrappers build a business; from scratch, or the ground up. Also, I didn't know exactly where I wanted to have these get-togethers, but thought a coffee shop would work. So, it's also a play on coffee grounds.

JB: Why did you feel there was a need for such a group?
JR: Creating GroundUP started out as a selfish way to get people I wanted to talk to in the same room. I optimistically expected 10 or 20 people to show up, but it's become much bigger than I thought possible. For about 20 years, I viewed all of my entrepreneurial ventures as side gigs to my career as an owner of an architecture and interactive design studio. I've had one or another start-up going non-stop since college. About five years ago, in partnership with my brother, we sold a Web business we built over a four-year period. I view that as one of the great successes of my professional career and it went completely under the radar in Houston. At the time, I didn't know other entrepreneurs or that start-up support groups even existed. I was completely in the dark. If I had access then to the networking resources I have today, our success might have been accelerated and bigger. I want to provide that opportunity to others. And there's always new things for me to learn, as well.

JB: Why do you think it works?
JR: It works for several reasons, but most importantly because there's no agenda. We chose a venue that was normally closed in the mornings so that everybody that shows up knows why everybody else is there. New attendees are welcomed into conversations and asked about their interest in startups, what they're working on, or what they want to learn about. In turn, they become the welcomers at subsequent GroundUPs as their comfort levels grow. There's a pent up demand from closeted entrepreneurs for places to meet like-minded people. Writing business plans and raising capital are not the only ways to build a business.

JB: Who is your target member?

JR: This group is growing organically and will become what it wants to become. So, we really don't have a target. But we know what we don't want; someone looking to drum up leads, handing out coupons, recruiters, salespeople, etc. "Authentic" is a word I've heard used to describe the crowd and I think that best sums it up.

JB: What prompted the informal nature of the group? No lead speaker, no formal agenda.
JR: My aversion to public speaking is probably what drove that. Like I said, the genesis of GroundUP was to satisfy my selfish need to talk with entrepreneurs. Once I saw a full room at our first mixer, I didn't want to disrupt the chemistry. It keeps getting louder and louder. We schedule it to run from 8:30 to 10:00 am on the first Thursday of every month. The room never empties out until noon.
     The amazing thing about GroundUPHouston is the diversity of the people who come to the meetings and the amount of knowledge and experience that they bring with them.  There are restaurateurs, animators, brew masters, caterers, researchers, designers, Web developers, gamers, novelists, investors, bankers, lawyers. It is at GroundUP that Rassul Zarinfar met Travis Crabtree, attorney with Looper Reed. Travis specializes in business development for small businesses, safeguarding the intellectual property and issues specific to the Internet. Rassul needed his Trademark licensed, Travis was there to make the connection.
     There is a circular cohesion in place. Something that Coert Voohees a novelist and creator of Grammaropolis, an interactive grammar game, calls the “Ethos of the group, a paying it forward.”  It works something like this: Coert Voorhees met Rassul Zarinfar at GroundUP.  Rassul is owner of the micro brewery, Buffalo Bayou Brewing company, and was six months into getting his brewery off the ground when he met Coert. Coert was at the start of putting Grammaropolis into motion. Coert said that Rassul’s support and knowledge was invaluable, because Rassul knew exactly what Coert was going through, the elation and the doubts. Coert in turn shared his expertise with a physicist who wanted to create an interactive game for children using the elements of physics, similar in practice to his own Grammaropolis.  And so it goes….
     I recommend GroundUPHouston to anyone with a seed of an idea that needs some encouragement and nourishment. The informal nature of the meeting takes the pressure off any forced greetings or introductions. As Mr. Reichtein said it allows the group to meet and flow organically. I found that quite exceptional.  The meeting also generates a great deal of creative energy. It is electrifying in its ability to excite and motivate.

Web site:
Meeting Place: The Dessert Gallery, 1616 Post Oak Blvd, Houston, TX
Time: First Thursday of every month from 8:30 AM until 10 Am
Bouncing Pixel’s Web site

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