BURLINGTON — The most recent Networking After Hours event promoted by the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce featured a unique coupling of educational opportunities for guests.
Co-hosted by Burlington Bytes and EB Strong’s Prime Steakhouse, the chamber pitched “Web & Wine” as a night of learning and networking — “for those who love the web, and love wine more.”
The event was held June 14 at The Cellar at EB Strong’s, the restaurant’s lower-level event space, and the contingent offices of Burlington Bytes on the top block of Church Street in Burlington.
Technology topics covered by Burlington Bytes staff included SEO (search engine optimization), design, social media, and website development, while wine education, led by Peter Kenseth of Truth In Juice, touched on the effects of terroir, and winemaker influence on wines. Each session allowed “question and answer” time.
Katie Taylor, the chamber’s director of workforce development and entrepreneurship, said, “Andrew Stickney of Burlington Bytes approached us with an idea of hosting an event that combined wine and web information. Often our Networking After Hours events are just networking, but this offered the chance to have a networking event that provided some additional value.”
Stickney further described the idea’s origins: “It’s not so much about convincing people they need what we do. It’s much more about being top of mind when they need what we do. I think that gave us the opportunity to do something not so cookie-cutter, but something more fun — like this.”
He said the goal was to offer something that was enjoyable, but that would enable guests to take something away as well.
Peter Jewett, founder of Burlington Bytes, said, “Tonight we were excited to collaborate with EB Strong’s. We share these spaces and thought it might be fun and interesting to get some business people in here who might want to learn a little about web technologies and wines.”
Kristin Halvorson, of EB Strong’s Prime Steakhouse, called it, “Another great event here in The Cellar at EB Strong’s. Tech topics wound around wine topics made for a very unique party presented by the Burlington Bytes group.”
Halvorson called the night “an example of workplace fun, and a good opportunity for us to showcase our event space and its many uses.” Halvorson said another recent event held in The Cellar was a “pop-up Happy Hour” with a local business. “That one had a little less tech-info provided to the guests,” she noted, “but it was a good one, indeed.”
Kenseth writes a wine-related blog at www.truthinjuice.com, and was tapped by Stickney to share his knowledge with guests.
“I’ve known Andrew for years — we go back to kindergarten. When he was putting this together, he asked me to come down and host the wine component of the evening. This adds an element of fun to the evening, with the chance to learn a little bit about wines.”
For businesses or groups interested in engaging Kenseth, he said he conducts private tastings regularly.
“We can do anything from a six-week wine discovery class to one-off evenings for an exploration of a particular varietal, region, or vertical comparison of a particular producer.” He said part of what he wants to do with tastings and his blog is to demystify wine. “It’s really a great beverage people can enjoy everyday,” he said. “It’s an enhancer for life.”
Taylor said both Burlington Bytes and EB Strong’s wanted the event to be free of charge and accessible to anyone who wanted to attend.
“There’s a real value in the digital age for folks to maximize the performance of their websites,” Taylor said. “I think people are really excited about both topics, and it’s a really energized crowd.”
Leyna Jackson runs social media operations at Vermont Teddy Bear Company.
“Little do people know we have four brands — Vermont Teddy Bear, Vermont Brownie Company, PajamaGram, and PajamaJeans,” Jackson said. “We’re kind of the gifting conglomerate of Vermont, always ready with a gift for special occasions.”
Jackson said Vermont Teddy Bear has long been a direct-mail company.
“That’s been a challenge, because the world is moving away from that — away from catalog, away from TV and radio advertising. I’m on the digital team looking at how we can grow our brand on the Internet, and here looking for tips.”
Bryn Appe and Tomas Rykr represented Baystate Financial at the event.
“We are an independent financial-planning organization, and one of the largest in New England,” Appe said. “We work with many different types of clients — those nearing retirement, business owners for both retirement planning and the distribution planning side. We take a holistic, goal-oriented approach to get to know individual clients’ goals, then help them achieve those goals.”
Rykr said, “One thing that separates Baystate is they like to hire younger, highly motivated advisors.” He said that’s unique in an industry where the age of the average advisor may be late-fifties to sixty years of age. “We have a strong support staff backing us, which allows us to really dig into clients’ needs and build strong relationships.”
Dawn McGinnis, of NPI Technology Management, said that her company works with businesses that strive to increase productivity and profits through well-managed technology. They have launched a new website, at www.npi.net, containing weekly original blogs offering valuable insights for technology-driven businesses.
Jenn Proulx, marketing coordinator at Stern Center for Language and Learning, said her organization recently launched a new website.
“We’re here to learn different tidbits on lead generation and SEO,” she said.
Stern Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of learners, working with children and adults to help them reach their academic, social and professional goals. Proulx said the center’s founder and president, Blanche Podhajski, was recently honored as a “Champion for Children” by the Turrell Fund.
Community Health Centers of Burlington, or CHCB, brought a contingent from its development and communications team. Christy Gustafson said CHCB named Greg Robinson its new CEO as of June 1. Matt DeFrange, development coordinator, said CHCB has six sites, including its headquarters on Riverside Avenue in Burlington, with a seventh located in South Burlington opening in July. Janine Fleri recently joined the team as a community relations and development assistant, working on patient engagement projects, including a newsletter.
Jewett said he founded Burlington Bytes out of his home in Burlington’s New North End five years ago.
“I came from Dealer.com and had a strong web background, so I founded the company primarily to build websites for small businesses in the area,” he said. “We’ve grown every year, and we moved into these offices about two years ago.”
Burlington Bytes’ expanded menu of services now includes website development and design, advertising, SEO, and social media.
“We offer pretty much anything that goes along with having your site — to drive traffic, to track that traffic and show you that it’s turning into leads, or whatever your business goals are.”
Jewett said the company continues to grow, and currently employs a staff of 15, working with more than 200 area businesses on a regular basis.
As its still relatively new CEO (he took the post in March), Stickney said the thing he’s most excited about at Burlington Bytes is the team.
“It’s a very understated group with an incredible amount of talent,” he said. “That was the most important factor when I was considering my next move,” Stickney said. “And the talent level, attitude, and teamwork here are all pretty awesome.”
Business Vermont roving reporter Mike Reilly offers regular coverage of Chittenden County business networking events, with notes on events, hosts and sponsors, with news and snippets from those in attendance. For events sponsored by Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, check the website at www.vermont.org.