JASPER — A new networking group is putting a twist on speed dating.
At Network Jasper meetings, business owners rotate through groups of three to four other business owners, but instead of sharing about themselves as you would on a date, they get two minutes to share about their business.
Tyler Shields and Chris McBride of Hopster Shields Agency, an insurance agency in Jasper, brought the concept to Jasper from a networking event they attend every week in their hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky.
Shields has worked in Jasper with Don Hopster for years, and the two went into business together last year.
Shields brought McBride to the team shortly after he and Hopster started their agency. Shields and McBride spend a lot of their time visiting other businesses pitching insurance. Through those meetings, they learned of a desire for a local networking group and decided to found Network Jasper.
Network Jasper is different than other networking groups, Shields said, because the focus is on participants getting to know each other, not on a single speaker. Everyone shares; everyone talks.
“You’re not there to sell someone something,” McBride said. “You’re there to get to know other people so that we have a referral system.”
Network Jasper meets from 8 to 9 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at Mad Batter, 708 Main St., Jasper, and at the same time on the fourth Tuesday of the month at Brew, 408 Main St., Jasper.
The free event kicked off Tuesday with 30 people in attendance and four rounds of conversation. At the end of the final round, Shields and McBride, who were moderating the meeting, threw in a question to get participants to share more than just their two-minute introduction: What’s an obstacle you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
“We want to really challenge people to have a business-helping-businesses type of thing,” Shields said.
Catherine Bramlett, owner of Mad Batter, participated in the networking on Tuesday and liked hearing how people answered the question because it let the participants get to know each other better. One guy, she said, shared that he grew up on a farm with a family who encouraged him to return to the farm and settle down. His obstacle was telling his family no and following his goal.
“We wouldn’t have known that just by the two-minutes,” Bramlett said.
Bramlett will moderate the group’s next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12 at Mad Batter.
The first meeting drew people from all over Dubois County and surrounding counties. A few came from Evansville, and a couple more from Owensboro plan to start attending.
McBride thinks out-of-town businesses have a lot to gain from coming to the event. The Jasper market has a reputation for being tightly knit and difficult to break into. Network Jasper gives out-of-towners the opportunity to get to know people and break into the market that way. It’s good for local business owners, too, because it forces them to carve out an hour every two weeks to interact with their peers. Bramlett appreciates the set time.
“When you’re a business owner, it’s good to know other business owners because there’s something that’s going to come up where you need someone else,” Bramlett said. “If you know someone personally, it makes it a lot easier.”
That said, meeting other entrepreneurs is a challenge.
Most of the time, Bramlett said, she has to be at her bakery from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., which doesn’t leave much time to get to know others. The ones she does know are all nearby her store, and she’s usually met them through business dealings. She doesn’t have the time to walk around to the stores during open hours to chat.
Network Jasper is giving her that opportunity.
Bramlett, McBride and Shields were all thrilled with the kickoff event, and they have plans to grow the program even more. In the future, participants will have the opportunity to sponsor breakfast for an event and get 10 minutes to talk to the group about whatever they want — their business, upcoming community events, something else. Shields said he’s already gotten Facebook messages from people who couldn’t make the meeting Tuesday but plan to come to future events. He hopes the event grows to be the premier networking group in the area.
“We want to be known as the place to be in Jasper,” Shields said. “When people think of networking, it’s the first thing that rolls off their mouth. It’s going to be the place to be.”