A new high-tech networking event buzzes in Appleton

A new high-tech networking event buzzes in Appleton

There’s a new high-tech networking event starting in Appleton, Wisconsin. “The Hive” brings together entrepreneurs, inventors, venture capitalists, angel investors and others who live in the Fox Valley.
Hive founders Roger Orlady, Drew Fleck, Tobey Andropolis and Bob Pankratz insist that this high-tech networking event is not a commercial business enterprise. Instead, the Hive is devoted to helping entrepreneurs network amongst themselves and “swarm” around ideas. “Swarming involves a lot of individuals clustering in groups, a great deal of free-flowing communication, and a lot of enthusiasm around the new cause,” a promotional flyer says.
To maximize the time available for swapping business cards, the Hive does not have any speakers. Instead, entrepreneurs are encouraged to talk with one another and learn about local business resources.
Hive coordinator Tobias Andropolis, a house painting entrepreneur and inventor, has developed a new type of masking tape tape dispenser that attaches to the belt loop of a painter’s pants. “It frees up both hands for quick and easy masking,” he said.
Andropolis is presently working to expand the list of businesses which carry his product and to identify business partners who can help him with manufacturing, packaging, and distribution. He enjoys coming to the Hive to discuss his inventions with other entrepreneurs and to exchange information about which vendors provide the best service.
“There is a fair amount of technology and future-thinking stuff going on up here,” said Bob Pankratz, another founder. Although many Fox Valley residents are coming up with innovative ideas, most entrepreneurs seem content to remain in their small, disconnected niches. The Hive is an effort to get people to share their energy and talk about what it takes to build a new business.
Innovative people of all stripes are welcome to come to the Hive, whether or not their previous business ventures have been successful. The main requirement for membership is being able to get excited about new ideas and being willing to share information about how to get things done.

Challenging the Status Quo

The Hive’s founders believe that the Fox Valley lives and breathes paper and manufacturing. “The population is trying to hang onto the past, rather than moving forward and embracing what’s to come,” Pankratz said.
He worries that when his six- and eight-year-old daughters are ready to enter the workforce, many of the established manufacturing companies that have historically been able to provide good jobs for Fox Valley residents will not be able to sustain them.
Instead of planning for a future without his daughters living nearby, Pankratz prefers to help local residents create the kind of companies that they would like their own children to work in.
“We are trying to develop a counter-culture,” he said.
The Hive’s founders would like to help this community break from its agrarian and manufacturing past and move into the information and knowledge age. Ideally, the Hive will become a place where innovative people can challenge the status quo without being “tarred and feathered” by those who prefer to keep things as they are.
“Success in Northeastern Wisconsin is about patience and persistence,” Pankratz said. “You’ve got to keep pushing along. You’ve got to know where you’re going. And you’ve got to be willing to invest the energy to have the nine failures, to have the one success.”

West Coast Roots

The Hive began in Seattle in the year 2000, when co-founder Drew Fleck saw a demand for a new kind of networking event that would not become “cheesy and sleazy and commercialized.” At the time, Fleck was commuting from Appleton to Seattle every other month and helping to start a business intelligence company called SpatialSherpa. “That crashed and burned with the dot-com dot-bomb,” recalled Fleck, who now lives full-time in the Fox Valley.
The Seattle version of The Hive was held at a European-style hotel in Bellingham, Washington, a location out-of-the-way enough to be inconvenient for people who didn’t really care about entrepreneurship.
The current Hive takes place at J: A Restaurant, at 501 W. Water Street in Appleton.
The restaurant is located in a former hydroelectric power plant, which provides a relaxed environment for discussing ideas. Outside the window fish leap, ducks land, and the river roils and bubbles. Inside the restaurant entrepreneurs greet one another and discuss their latest projects.
The next “swarm” will be Monday, December 13th, from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is free, but attendees are required to share their ideas.
Teresa Esser is a contributing columnist for the Wisconsin Technology Network and author of the book, The Venture Café. She can be reached at teresa@wistechnology.com.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.