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Kim Hart: The Download

By Kim Hart
Monday, March 2, 2009

There's no shortage of events in the Washington region that bring together tech-minded people to mingle and hopefully make deals. But once they arrive at a crowded venue and obtain a frothy beverage, how do they make sure they meet the right people and get the most out of the evening?

Frank Gruber and Eric Olson, who put on Tech Cocktail events in various cities, held an informal "town meeting" last Thursday in Adams Morgan. It was the 19th event the duo had organized -- the fourth in Washington-- and they realized that it was time to figure out the next steps for the franchise they've created in cities such as Chicago, Boston, Cincinnati and Boulder, Colo.

"Our whole point is to help amplify what the local scenes are doing," said Gruber, product strategist in AOL's social media group and the author of the SomewhatFrank blog. "But I know we need to do a better job of connecting other cities and get some cross-pollination going on."

Gruber, who lives in Arlington but spends a good part of his time traveling across the country speaking at Web 2.0 conferences and meeting techies, said he hopes passionate attendees will become "ambassadors" to take some of the pain out of meeting new people at the events. After all, engineers aren't always the most outgoing on the tech party circuit. He spent a lot of time making introductions so that everyone might be part of productive conversations.

A few deals have come out of the gatherings. Gruber met the founders of lifestreaming service Socialthing at a Boulder event. It was acquired by AOL for $6.8 million in August.

"You know, 70 percent of the people here just want to get some beer, but there are some people who really want to help the community," said Nicholas Tolson, who runs DeGeeked.com, a site that gives answers to technology questions.

Start-ups including DubMeNow, GeniusRocket, OtherInbox and SB Nation demoed their services at Thursday's event. It was broadcast live through UStream.

Tolson said there should be other get-togethers between the semi-annual parties to promote business planning and idea exchanges. Maybe even a softball team?

"Hey, if a softball team comes out of this, that's great," Gruber said. "Who knows, maybe you'll even hit a few home runs."

No pun intended.

New Class of Businessmen

Across town, another shindig was underway at the Verizon Center. As the Washington Capitals played for a sold-out crowd, the new class of MindShare, a yearlong, invitation-only crash course for promising entrepreneurs, held a kickoff party.

Just before the game started, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis shared a few words of encouragement to the group. It was difficult to hear the elevator pitches over the sirens with each goal scored on the rink below, but I met about a dozen of the 51 chief executives who are part of MindShare's 13th class.

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