WATSONVILLE—As helicopter blades whirred over the Watsonville Municipal Airport tarmac, locals tipped back craft brews and celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of South County at Event Watsonville, a networking event Wednesday that drew more than 130 guests.
It was the second Event Watsonville organized by Matthew Swinnerton who oversees similar events in Santa Cruz each month. This one, hosted by Specialized Helicopter, featured four-minute talks by six local entrepreneurs who shared their business stories with the crowd.
As the fog was settling in, attendees talked about how important it is to build community and to link businesses with local organizations, youth and artists. Cesar Ruiz, owner of My Mom’s Mole, helped keep the crowd fed.
“This is new for me,” said muralist and schoolteacher Paul De Workmen who was on hand selling t-shirts. “In recent years, Watsonville has definitely become more active.”
Chris Bley of InspecTools, a drone company based just down the street, said he was there “to stay in touch with what’s going on in startup communities.”
Specialized gave discounted rides over the picturesque berry fields and glimmering Watsonville Slough at sunset as Chris Gularte, director of operations at Specialized, opened the evening talks with some history about the airport and the kinds of trips offered at the company.
Also speaking were Sindy Hernandez de Cornejo, owner of Queens Shoes & More, who talked about her passion for fashion; Jessica Ridgeway of FarmDiscovery at Live Earth, who was able to bring more than 800 young students to the farm to learn about growing and cooking healthy food; and Luke Taylor of Corralitos Brewing, who credited his wife for buying him the home brewing kit in 2002 that launched his brewing passion.
Consuelo Alba, founding director of the Watsonville Film Festival, said it has been volunteers and local business that have helped the annual festival grow in the last decade. This fall, the festival will include more than 40 films, half of which were created by women.
Jacob Martinez, founder of Digital NEST and Gabriel Medina, a digital arts and technology manager on staff, shared their passion for developing the community’s greatest asset: youth.
“I had no idea what it would take to bring my dream to life,” said Katie Raquel of Katie’s Coldpress, a certified organic raw juice company in Monterey. “I’ve come to appreciate the slow steady progress. These kinds of events are so valuable because they give us the opportunity to take these small steps together.”
“There’s no better way to expand your business than to go out and show people,” said hip-hop artist Richie Ancira, who was at the event. “It’s a different type of love. No one’s showboating. We’re just here doing what we do.”
Swinnerton hopes to foster enough interest to hold monthly Event Watsonville events.
People are telling more than their stories, he said. “They’re telling the how and the why and what’s the motivation behind what they do.” It is not your traditional business card exchange, although that happens. Swinnerton swears his events are focused on fun and passion.
“The community in Watsonville is so supportive of each other,” he said. “You can see the energy of the audience.”
This article was published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.