If you’re looking to get connected as a young professional in Gainesville, these five networking events will immerse you in the best our community has to offer.
The Empty Bottle Club
The Gainesville Chapter of The Empty Bottle Club, a local business organization, had humble beginnings with conversations about business around a bonfire in an early member’s backyard. It’s now evolved into one of the most exclusive networking mixers in Gainesville, often set to the backdrop of locations like the penthouse of Roberts’ Stadium Club, which overlooks the University of Florida campus and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Empty Bottle Club was started by UF professor Marty Schaffel and some since-graduated members of the Entrepreneurship Collective at the University of Florida.
The club was started in an effort to honor a friend of Marty’s, who was suffering from health problems, by creating a space to enjoy beautiful moments with friends, often over whiskey and cigars, like he much enjoyed.
The crowd runs younger, with many current and former business students attending, andconsistently attracts more established leaders like the CEOs of local startups, city commissioners,and venture capitalists. Many of the attendees are involved with startups or entrepreneurship ventures. It incorporates traditions like signing one of the empty bottles of whiskey and gifting it to an attendee who contributed to the event or community in a significant way.
The mission of the Empty Bottle Club is to connect entrepreneurial individuals who share similar values and give them the opportunity to grow and contribute, learn from those who have had great successes, and help those who are on a similar journey.
The Empty Bottle Club typically meets once a month and is invite-only, but ask around and you just might know somebody who’s heard of it. Business casual attire is encouraged.
AIGA Drinks & Design
AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) is an organization for design professionals. It’s the largest and oldest group of its kind with more than 70 chapters and more than 25,000 members. Gainesville’s chapter was the second fastest growing in the nation last year. Whether you’re an experienced designer, just getting started, or simply trying to connect with some like-minded folks in the creative community, AIGA is a great place to do it.
Speaking events are often hosted featuring some of the brightest minds in the space and provide many learning opportunities. They recently hosted Nikki Villagomez, a nationally recognized speaker on typography. Early every month, they hold an event called, “Drinks & Design”, a hang out at a local downtown bar or restaurant where everyone can make friends and talk shop. They recently marked their second anniversary at The Bull during one of them.
ACEL Professional Mixer
Alachua County Emerging Leaders (ACEL) began in 2005 as a special project of Leadership Gainesville Class 31 and a contribution from the Glaeser Foundation. ACEL’s a great place to get to know Gainesville and the various leaders that make it up. It appeals to wide interests with the overarching goal being to connect professionals and help them grow. The organization’s members tend to be younger professionals in their late 20s and early 30s, but more seasonedleaders and younger recent graduates often come out seeking opportunities to learn and contribute as well.
Getting involved can be a pretty customizable experience for members due to the organization’s diverse committees that allow members to focus on what they enjoy the most. This makes ACELvery attractive to anyone looking to meet personal goals or make new friends. Communityservice, public policy, and professional development are some of the areas ACEL will empower members to get involved with.
ACEL often hosts opportunities to meet with local legislators, renowned business leaders, and political candidates over drinks or food. They also offer professional workshops, mentorship programs with established leaders, and microgrants.
If you’re looking for a way to give back to the community, they regularly volunteer for causes like The Freewheel Project, which allows participants to repair donated bicycles for the less fortunate or GRACE Marketplace where you can serve meals to the homeless.
ACEL has a monthly professional mixer every second Thursday of the month. This is a great opportunity to learn more and connect with local leaders. The attendance ranges widely, but often includes local government leaders, business owners, startup employees, marketers, real estate agents, medical professionals, and graduate students. The happy hour is a fun, casual setting to shoot ideas around and make new friends over drinks while learning about all the cool stuff going on in Gainesville.
Startup Hour is a networking event hosted by Augi Lye, CEO of Chromatic Games, and Ted Astleford, the Director of Experiential Learning at the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida.
This event is always hosted at a local downtown bar and has unique traditions that make an effort to promote collaboration for Gainesville’s startup community. Towards the end of a night of mingling with some of Gainesville’s brightest up-and-coming entrepreneurs, Augi and Ted stand on a table and invite anyone in attendance to come up and do an elevator pitch for their business. Startup Hour can be boisterous at times, so don’t come thinking you’ll be quietly sipping on vintage ports over cheese and crackers, but the energy at this event is often what it takes to get ideas off the ground.
Startup Hour, typically a monthly event, has an open bar, and like the Empty Bottle Club, is usually word-of-mouth. The best way to know when this event comes around is to follow their Facebook page.
SharpSpring is one of the fastest growing tech startups in Gainesville and recently declared a public stock offering. They are situated in the up-and-coming Celebration Pointe community. Twice a month they host a networking mixer called, “Buzz”. If you sign up with them ahead of the event, you’ll get two drinks on them. They often meet at a restaurant or bar near Celebration Pointe and sometimes downtown.
Buzz is a great place to connect with other young professionals from SharpSpring and sometimes other startups. It is primarily a recruiting event, so it is absolutely a must if you have any interest in working for their organization; it is often attended by their leadership. Even if you’re not looking for a job, SharpSpring has some of the tech community’s friendliest and sharpest (no pun intended) people, so great conversations are sure to be had.