It was a scene that made European Village noticeably busier than one would expect on a chilly January evening. Somewhere in the general vicinity of Kokoro Sushi and Le Rendezvous at European Village, two young women with wine glasses clutched in shivering fingers stood somewhat separate from everyone else, as writers have a tendency to do, during Palm Coast’s first entrepreneur night of 2014.
One was Camica Bennett, 32, of Ormond Beach, the creator and founder of TheWellWrittenWoman.com, a community blogging website for women. The other was Becky Pourchot, 41, of Flagler Beach, author of the “Hungry Ghost” series of spooky novels whose protagonist is a girl who can commune with the dead. The novels are set in Flagler Beach.
Writing can be a solitary profession, certainly one that doesn’t evoke whatever image the word “entrepreneur” brings to mind. But here were Bennett and Pourchot, at Entrepreneur Night, the periodic event Office Divvy co-founder Ky Ekinci started in 2011, and that has since become something of an entrepreneurial salon where being and being seen is almost a necessity for rising minds or more established ones with networking in their genes. But when even writers are present, you know something more than mere networking is happening.
“It lets me drink on a Tuesday—unapologetically,” Bennett jokes. “No, it lets me connect with other women who are entrepreneurs who want to get their stories out there.”
“And we don’t see each other otherwise. This is how we met,” Pourchot says. “We connected this way. And she published one of my stories on TheWellWrittenWoman.com.”
For Pourchot, particularly, the event has served her in other ways as well. The creator of a go-go dance troupe, she met a DJ at one of the earlier events whose specialty is go-go music. “So it’s basically connections—whether it’s social or business-related,” Pourchot says. “I’ve made a lot of friends through entrepreneur night. I consider myself an entrepreneur, even though it’s on a very small scale. I’ve got a series that I sell but it’s still a business and I still need to connect.”
The two writers illustrate how Entrepreneur Night has found its legs, as Ekinci puts it, since its debut in September 2011. Ekinci’s Office Divvy provides services for startup entrepreneurs and also hosts the event, with a sponsorship from the Palm Coast Business Assistance Center.
“It was never intended to be a top down event,” Ekinci says. “It was always referred to as a grass roots event and it’s become just that. It’s really like the six degrees of separation now.”
About 20 people showed up at the first event in late 2011. They were all connected to Office Divvy. January’s event, on a Tuesday evening, the official head count was 107–more people than you’d see at all of Tuesday’s government meetings combined (though in fairness to those tortuous meetings, booze is not served there as it is at Entrepreneur Night). At every event since 2012, which takes place each time at a different venue, more than 100 people have turned out.
Renzo Flores, 25, is an entrepreneur who definitely fell on the younger side of the spectrum. Flores who moved to the United States from Lima, Peru, in 1997, not speaking a word of English. He’s in computer repairs and video solutions, specializing in software and fixing spyware, malware and other technological gremlins. He works out of his house and does house calls. There are a lot of computer repair places here in Palm Coast, but Flores says he’s lucky to have found his niche. He credits the large retired demographic for whom it’s easier to hire someone to fix their technological problems than to reinvent geekdom. He separates himself from his bigger rivals in that he’s willing to travel. And, he says, his prices are competitive.
“I used to live in Gainesville, and right there it’s not such a good market, because it’s a college town. They have the time and resources to do it themselves,” Flores said of the computer-repair culture there. “It’s college students, so they don’t want to waste too much money, either.”
Gary Perkins, who works for the Humane Society, got into some trouble when he was about 20, he says (he’s now 27), which inspired his non-profit year-round camp-like mentorship program. He teaches sports (the football team he coaches has a story similar to “The Mighty Ducks,” he says) and he also motivates participating students to keep their grades up. Palm Coast, he says, speaking in contrast to gloomier perceptions of the last few years, is a good place to start a business, at least compared to Columbia, South Carolina, from where he recently moved.
“It’s just my own personal beliefs. But it’s pretty segregated there. You got blacks mad at blacks, blacks mad at whites, and whites mad at blacks,” Perkins says. “In Florida, everyone is so nice and willing to lend a helping hand…The key to being a successful business man is to be a good middle man.”
Luis and Heather Garcia, 48 and 42, are closer to the average age of entrepreneurs in attendance. They’ve been with SendOutCards for about eight years. It was their first time at Entrepreneur Night. Their business is greeting cards that aren’t digital but are accessed online for snail mail use. The company prints, stamps, and puts the card in the mail, similar to what Netflix did with movies.
“We’ve learned that appreciation wins over promotion every time,” says Luis. “We don’t really sell ourselves or our products. If you just stay focused on appreciating your clients on special events, you never have to advertise, because you’re going to get referrals that way.”
Norman Kent, 47, who’s lived in Palm Coast since 1991, is probably the most well traveled of all the attendees. A world renowned photographer and cinematographer with films like “The Fast and the Furious 7,” “Enders Game,” and “Godzilla,” under his belt, he says his attendance is both social and business-oriented but “primarily social.” (It was his idea to have certain shots of the 2000 Tom Berenger movie “Cutaway” filmed in Flagler Beach.) Will and Jaime Furry, 38 and 33, moved here from South Florida about five months ago. They came for the small town feel and the easy beach access for their children but also to exploit an age niche. In short, their business, DittoBee: Photo Scanning, digitizes photographs so they can be better preserved and easily shared. Again, this is because of the pre-digital-age demographic, with whole lifetimes worth of photos.
They’ve been successful with other businesses in the past. “We’re really entrepreneurs first,” Will says. “We kind of just follow trends. With our entrepreneurial spirit, we kind of just put pen to paper when something makes sense to us and we work out the number.” The businesses, he says, “don’t always have to be our passion. We’re passionate about making businesses successful and that’s what drives us.”
So it goes at Entrepreneur Night. Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, you never known who you might run into, get curious about, inspired by. It’s free. (Well, admission is free. Drinks aren’t.) The March event is at the indomitable Hammock Wine and Cheese Shoppe. Register here.