Queen Anne’s Cederberg Tea House (1417 Queen Anne Ave. N.) is a cozy spot, with biscuits and steaming cups of tea dotting tables around the room. A flickering fire warms one corner. Unfortunately for Chuks Onwuneme, the tea house also has a maximum occupancy of about 50 people.
Onwuneme is the organizer of the Friends of Queen Anne Tech and Entrepreneur meet-up (www.meetup.com/Queen-Anne-Friends-Tech-Meetup), a diverse and growing group of professionals based in the Queen Anne neighborhood.
According to Onwuneme, most people who come to the meet-ups either live in Queen Anne or have a strong connection to the area. They include tech professionals working at Seattle start-ups, artists with a business plan, students getting involved with the industry and many other creative and innovative individuals.
Onwuneme said it is particularly important for entrepreneurs to build networks. “Entrepreneurship can be a really lonely journey,” he said. He added that tech entrepreneurs can become particularly isolated, staying at home to code all day.
“It’s always nice to come out like this and meet real people,” he joked.
When Onwuneme moved to Seattle three years ago, he began his entrepreneurial journey by visiting tech meet-ups around the city. These meet-ups can be found in Capitol Hill, downtown, Roosevelt — almost any area that has a café to hold them. Three years later, he has successfully launched Personify, an app that connects volunteers to organizations. However, he still goes to many meet-ups.
“All the things I attend are out somewhere,” Onwuneme said. “I meet all these people out there that tell me they live in Queen Anne.”
It seemed obvious Queen Anne needed a meet-up of its own.
“We started last December, and there were only like 12 folks,” Onwuneme said. “And now we’re having to, you know, cut people from the list.”
He said more than 100 wanted to attend the group’s second meet-up on Jan. 13, but the Seattle fire code limited the size of the group.
Onwuneme said his focus is on creating a community in Queen Anne, which has a high concentration of entrepreneurs and other innovative business people.
“My goal right now is just to try to build the community. It is more about having outreach and having people connect,” Onwuneme said, “and also just a place for people to feel less intimidated, to come offer help and get help.”
Seattle’s tech industry and hundreds of start-ups and small businesses make it a highly valued destination for entrepreneurs and tech professionals. At the meeting, there were few Seattle natives, and like Onwuneme, most people had moved to Seattle for work.
Lawrence Lerner, an entrepreneur for more than 25 years, moved to the city only six months ago. “Seattle has such a fantastic, close-knit tech community,” he said, adding that he was delighted to meet so many people so soon after arriving. “We’re all smarter together than we are individually.”
Entrepreneurs at the meeting represented a variety of industries and experience levels. Matt Gamboa, for example, works at Rover.com, a website that lets dog lovers, owners and professional walkers network locally. Rosette Gault, a publisher for an online artbook company, is in the process of starting a business to make clay-based water filters. Students came to make connections in the community. The list goes on and on.
Sasha Muir, Onwuneme’s special guest at the meeting, is an entrepreneur who specializes in niche fashion markets. She moved to Seattle from England 13 years ago and successfully launched her high-end nail-polish brand Butter London in 2005. She is now working on Bevée, a handbag line for professional women.
In a “fireside chat,” she discussed her experience and struggles as an entrepreneur with Onwuneme and answered questions from other meet-up members. Muir gave advice on how to get started on a business idea, what to do in a crisis and the importance of staying motivated. What inspires her? “Other women entrepreneurs,” she responded.
She explained that she has two daughters, whom she wants to show that women can be successful, happy and independent. Incidentally, Muir met Onwuneme because their daughters go to the same school, only a few blocks from Cederberg Tea House.
Muir encouraged the meet-up members to act on their ideas. “A lot of it is, ‘Just start; it will follow,’” she said, “But nothing will get moving if you don’t start.”
Onwuneme has certainly embraced this attitude, in everything from Personify to giving back to the community. Personify was inspired by a frustrating situation he encountered a few years ago.
He decided, on a whim, to spend his day volunteering in his community. But when he called around to local organizations, no one had any volunteer positions open that day. This frustration turned into a business idea, which is now a Smartphone app that matches individuals to available volunteer positions near them.
“When you get like-minded people together doing something good for the world, that stuff snowballs,” Onwuneme said. “If more folks spent time doing that kind of stuff, I think the world would be a lot better place than it is today.”
The Queen Anne meet-up is one small step Onwuneme is taking toward this goal. He said that, if more people got to know their neighbors and build their communities, we would all be much better off.
Onwuneme recounted the first place he lived in Seattle: a high-rise apartment building in Belltown. He lived there with his family for a year and only met his next-door neighbors when he was moving out — he blamed the Seattle freeze. Eventually, he became friends with the couple.
“There’s the good in everybody, and sometimes it’s frozen by all this bad weather,” he said. “But there are ways we can bring it out…, and that’s why I do what I do.”
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