What: A Last Tuesdays-style event, planned in Lawrence When: 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday Where: Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass. Contact: Will Katz, regional director of the Kansas University Small Business Development Center, 843-8844
From Switzerland to Japan, Derek Maune has made contacts from around the world in efforts to grow his technology companies.
But it took a visit to a Last Tuesdays event in Manhattan to realize how much potential he had to connect with people in Kansas. It was at the business networking session that Maune met interested investors, a possible printer and an advertising agency.
Maune and his wife, Elissa Rose, co-founded Manhattan-based Synthetic Entertainment, a virtual content design and creation company for online social worlds such as Second Life. They are also working on Quillpill, a company still in the beta stages that will develop a Web tool to help writers draft, edit, publish and promote short serial novels. The work is released at 140 characters at time and can be written on cell phones or other applications such as desktop computers or even the Nintendo Wii gaming system.
“Basically, we hadn’t really been talking to anyone in the local community. We had just kind of assumed the local community was mostly bars and retail shops,” Maune said. “Which in retrospect is foolish. If you take a second and look around at what is here, there is a decent amount of infrastructure and fairly interesting companies doing interesting things. That is only growing.”
The concept of Last Tuesdays is the brain child of Vincent Amanor-Boadu, an agriculture business professor at Kansas State University. The idea, which is spreading to Lawrence, is to bring researchers, businesses, entrepreneurs, investors and the community at large together once a month. As the name implies, they meet on the last Tuesday.
The hope was that the group would be more than the customary social mixer. Entrepreneurs would connect with researchers to take new ideas to market. And those ideas would find financing through investors, and already existing businesses would be able to promote their services to start-up companies.
In Manhattan, each event has an entrepreneur or investor present information on who they are and what they do. In some cases, it’s more pitch than presentation.
“That creates a point of conversation,” Amanor-Boadu said.
Will Katz, regional director of the Kansas University Small Business Development Center, is working to set up the Last Tuesdays concept here in Lawrence. The first event will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 28 at the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass.
At a time when investments on Wall Street are bearing mostly painful loses, Katz said, more people might be willing to look at investing in local entrepreneurs who have smart ideas. Just as groups urge their community members to shop locally and eat locally, Katz said that people should start thinking about investing locally.
“If they think buying locally is powerful, wait until they see the power of investing locally and (its role in) creating jobs,” he said.
And in Katz’s mind, millions aren’t needed for investment. It could be $10,000 or $20,000 to help a budding company close the gap between what it can finance and what the bank is willing to loan. And it’s just not for high-tech companies like Maune’s. Money could go toward helping a coffee shop purchase an espresso machine, a landscaping business buy lawn equipment or a cabinet maker acquire tools.
Katz acknowledges there is risk involved — more so, than, say, putting your money in a bank CD — but he also sees advantages.
“There is the opportunity to have more control of your money and achieve higher returns and actively participate in the investment process,” he said.
As venture capital is running dry in the technology meccas of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, Maune said he has come across some interested investors in the Midwest through Last Tuesdays.
“What I found is money in the Midwest is less likely to give you cash for something you can’t back up with numbers and potential revenue,” Maune said. “But more likely to assume you know what you are doing if you put enough information together to convince them that they should be interested.”
In Manhattan, the Last Tuesdays event draws 40 to 45 people every month. And they aren’t just from Riley County. They travel in from Topeka, Salina and even Lawrence.
One of the regular attendees is Lisa Sisley, a partner of the Manhattan-based creative agency the New Boston Creative Group.
“It’s a wonderful way to cut through some of the barriers to good communication,” she said.