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A Little Jazz + A Little Networking = Big Things in Pittsburgh

Annette Beck

ABeckEvery Thursday evening in downtown Pittsburgh, something special happens at Little E's Jazz and Blues Club.

During happy hour each week, entrepreneurs get together to tap into what's hot in the Pittsburgh start-up arena. Over drinks and cool jazz, they have the opportunity to interact and create relationships with potential financiers, university incubators, economic development thought leaders and other business stars.

The goal? Jessica Lee calls it, “jazz networking for the innovation community.” It’s an evening that allows the community to find out “what’s innovative and possible in the Pittsburgh region,” she says.

Jessica, a successful entrepreneur and musician, has been into music since she was five. She went to college where she majored in music, and upon completion of her undergraduate work, went on to Duke University to study the entrepreneurial side of the arts. She knew she wanted to be a music entrepreneur.

Little E’s Entrepreneurial Thursdays features live jazz and blues while it assists local entrepreneurs with funding and partnering opportunities through networking. The doors of Little E’s open at 5:30 p.m. From 6-6:40, the audience enjoys the first set of live music while the networking begins. Between 6:40-7, the club opens the mike up for interviews with featured panelists, which include entrepreneurs getting started, university campuses offering entrepreneurial coursework and support, and funders and others in the entrepreneurial realm. Presentations are followed by a second set of live music and networking from 7-8 p.m.

The idea of bringing entrepreneurs together in a music setting wasn’t new. It was happening in a club in Southern California, and it was based on the notion that more business is likely done not in board rooms, but in places where people gather socially.

Jessica used that model when she approached the owners of Little E’s with her win-win strategy: Not only would Entrepreneurial Thursdays draw entrepreneurs together, but it would also help sustain Little E’s by bringing a new audience into one of the area’s few remaining jazz and blues clubs.

“Jazz is a wonderful form of music when you want to talk startup,” says Jessica. Just like a startup, to create great jazz music, certain foundations need to be put in place. But Jessica says “improvising off the form” is also critical. And if you think about it, what business doesn’t find itself veering off its original plan from time to time?

In addition, Jessica believes the music itself has a lot to do with spurring creativity. “The blues talks about hopes, dreams, challenges, the blues,” Jessica comments. These are all things that are integral in launching a startup.

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