‘Ideas Over Beers’ event brews ingenuity - Republic-Times | News

‘Ideas Over Beers’ event brews ingenuity

By on August 30, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Birton Cowden, a Hecker native, led the “Ideas Over Beers” session last Thursday at Stubborn German Brewing.
(Sean McGowan photo)

Dr. Birton Cowden, a Hecker native, surveyed the crowd Thursday night at Stubborn German Brewing in Waterloo, microphone in hand.

Everyone from well-known business owners to budding entrepreneurs sat around the room in anticipation of the start of the inaugural “Ideas Over Beers” event, meant to inspire the sharing of ideas for ventures such as new business or economic development.

Cowden, who serves as director of new venture development at the University of Massachusetts, began with a vote of confidence as he questioned Stubborn German owners Chris and Tammy Rahn.

“Who are you to open a microbrewery here while also running an auto shop in town? Who are you to think you can do that?” he posed as a rhetorical question. “The audacity. It all just starts with that — just one person having the audacity.”

To paint a clearer picture, Cowden went on to share his definition of an entrepreneur.

“Here’s my definition — A person that gets cool (stuff) done without someone telling them to do so, and without the proper resources,” he said. “No one is going to hand you anything. There’s no special pixie dust.”

Cowden then went over his ground rules for speaking before handing the microphone off to the first brave soul wanting to better the community. For instance, Cowden maintained a strict adherence to staying within a one-minute time limit for sharing.

“If you’re over 60 seconds, here’s what you’ll hear,” he said, as he blew into a kazoo.

Then, right out of the gate, people came up one after the other, and the ideas began to flow. Katherine Miller shared about her recent success with a candle business.

“I want to bounce ideas off people who have started brands,” she said with the hope of turning her product into a nationally recognized brand.

Other people shared larger scale ideas, such as helping businesses become more autism friendly. Darcy Fausz said high school graduates with autism can’t easily find employment.

“If you know anyone with (Asperger’s syndrome) or autism, they are excellent employees because they don’t socialize,” Fausz shared, drawing a laugh from the audience. “They’re always on time, they follow the rules and do what you tell them.”

Johnny Scott told the group how he had started a non-profit organization to help disaster victims who are uninsured or underinsured.

“If there is anyone here looking to establish a non-profit, I can help you figure out the whole 501(c)(3) thing, or whatever else you might need,” he said.

Regardless of the idea, Cowden challenged everyone to share under a particular format — identify the problem, provide a solution, and ask the group for resources.

“There is no such thing as the sole entrepreneur. Steve Jobs would not have had anything if he didn’t have a great team to help him put his money where his mouth was,” Cowden said, hammering in the point of asking for help.

Close to 20 people shared their dreams and visions — some simply stood before the crowd and pitched their idea in one breath.

“Is anybody else for a Waterloo ice cream shop? Because I am,” Savannah Day professed.

As people took part in networking at the end, Cowden told the Republic-Times that he felt this introductory event turned out well.

“One factor that I like to look at is how many people stick around after the sharing portion,” Cowden said, pointing to the mass of people chatting over ideas. “People are definitely sticking around, and they look pretty excited and into things.

“The next thing I would like to do is find a local sponsor so that we can do more of this. I think (having this event regularly) would start the conversation of taking things to the next level.

“For things to go through, we need real entrepreneurship training. We need to do more to develop an ecosystem.”

In 2014, Cowden hosted a similar event at UMass that he dubbed an “Idea Jam.” Cowden recalled one of the ideas, FEAT Socks, evolving into a $10 million Los Angeles company.

“FEAT Socks are colorful, unique socks that combine texture and tone to create the perfect performance blend. These socks feature active arch support and reinforced toes and heels for optimal comfort,” according to the FEAT Socks Facebook page.

The success of that business venture, Cowden said, came down to one word: “hustle.” He said that while networking helped, the effort the business partners put into their idea is what got them off the ground.

Cowden will return this winter for a similar event, with the hope of passing the torch on to the community to continue such talks. He said these events help shape people’s understanding of how networking can be useful to entrepreneurship.

“The great thing about networking this way is, we’re networking around ideas, not an individual,” he said.


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Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years. email:sean@republictimes.net