Just came off a very fun and worthwhile weekend at the inaugural CatskillsConf – a three day affair that brought together an eclectic mix of creatives, tech people, foodies and startup community supporters.
Was cool not only because the organizers were able to successfully pull off marketing to assemble 120+ people that touched on all those themes, but the diversity included an audience nearly evenly split between Upstate and NY metro.
This was the first ever such gathering in the Hudson Valley/Catskills area. It came about after founders of the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup (Dan Stone, Daniel and Sabrina Shutzsmith and Kale Kaposhilin) met Aaron Quint, (web entrepreneur and former Paperless Post CTO/Chief Scientist) who recently transplanted from NYC to the Hudson Valley.
Pooling their combined organizational talents, passion for bringing people together and lists of contacts is what catalyzed CatskillsConf and their joint marketing outreach filled the room.
Leveraging Local Assets
Whether it was musical talent, farm to table culinary, wood crafts and natural settings of the Ashokan Center, this was a thoughtful mashup that brought diverse elements together with common themes that spoke to the millennial target.
On the learning side, my personal favorites were Dennis Crowley’s “put it all out there” story reflecting struggles at different stages in the startup journey, and also an amazing education segment featuring live birds of prey doing their thing.
When you’ve got a group together for more than a day, it gives opportunity to go beyond a large group learning setting to do some things that can be hands on, fun and social – all adding to the potential of building on strong relationships among participants.
The Catskills flavor for small group activities included options like foraging, blacksmithing, cider making, bookbinding, and drone piloting to name just a few.
Institutional ownership not a requirement for success
More than just a well run event, what’s unusual here is that the outcome wasn’t oriented towards benefiting a particular organization – but rather to just grow the relationship networks for participants, while having a fun time and creating many memories.
My boomer generation just isn’t used to seeing grass roots organizing like this without institutional ownership and resources.
New relationships will yield downstream benefit
As I browsed around, a frequent comment from local tech people sounded like “I used to think I was the only person around here like me. As a result of the groups forming and events bringing like minded people together, I’ve now got a growing network of supporters to help me.”
As I try to calculate the number of “creative collisions” that occurred and what happens when like minded people stumble into each other for the first time, there is little doubt that startup formation and growth will include some life changing outcomes sparked by what seemed like chance encounters.
Good things happen when a few people step up to lead
Kudos to the organizers as they took financial risk and put in a ton of hours along with a full supporting team of volunteers.
They set an inspiring standard for others to follow and their leadership adds further fuel to my optimism about why it is the millennials who are making the difference in powering Upstate towards a big jump in the number of new industry companies and jobs that will rise here from humble beginnings as people meeting at an event that then lead to collaborating on a startup.
We pledge our resources at Upstate Venture Connect to support their efforts and look forward to doing the same for all others ready to lead the charge in their own local market.