Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
Jessica Guzik creates communities. She guides strangers into friendships. She develops business partnerships. She improves regional spirit and helps hone municipal reputations. She provides the missing link between virtual reality and… well, reality.
“Cross pollinating socially, that’s harder and harder to do the older you get,” she said, explaining the inspiration for her incipient upstart, Curated Table. “Your big group of friends start families, people get busy with businesses…”
She doesn’t have to finish the thought: Time is short, everyone’s busy, we all are consumed by our screens and taking care of our spiritual and cultural well-being is an after thought, and our professional lives can suffer for it.
But when those companionship needs are met, nourished by a community-wide shared spirit, good things happen, not just to the individual but to those around them, not to mention their businesses.
Okay, so what does Jessica Guzik do? She’s not a politician, not a psychotherapist, not a health and wellness consultant and she’s not Martha Stewart although that may be who she has the most in common with. But with a twist.
“I design creative events that connect communities,” Guzik said. “That’s the simple explanation of it.”
Guzik organizes small dinner parties or lunches that bring together six to 10 guests — generally community-starved millennials, but other ages have opted in–who perhaps never would have met otherwise and to see what happens. It’s not a singles dating thing or a corporate networking event, although singles and corporations are welcome to ask for her services.
Afterward Guzik takes key learnings from these conversations and turns them into content in the form of white papers, reports and infographics that can be shared with other stakeholders or potential customers.
Guzik got the idea in 2012 when she put together a team-building lunch for her employer. She was living in Washington at the time and while the event and subsequent events were professional successful and inspirational, she personally was “feeling socially isolated in D.C.,” she said.
A move to WeLive in Crystal City crystalized for her not only her own lifestyle but also what could be done with the Curated Table concept and her other communal event idea, Crystal City Supper Club, in a ready-made, built-in neighborhood that was ripe for connecting.
Crystal City, in fact, was her lightning strike moment.
“I’m finding Crystal City is a really cool place to do what I’m doing,” she said. “It has a really tight-knit entrepreneur community–a lot of people who ‘get it’ and are happy to see that kind of [community] action happening in what some people regard as a big concrete office park.”
A Curated Table dinner is just that: Invitees socialize a bit, take their seats and enjoy a free-flowing evening of conversation and discovery moderated by a Curated Table staffer (at this point it’s usually Guzik).
How does a Curated Table soiree differ from, say, an association’s networking meet-and-greet?
“When you’re in a small group setting, as opposed to a big happy hour, you can connect with everyone at the table, and I think that’s really important,” she said. “You’re not just talking with someone you happen to bump into and share an appetizer tray with.”
The first Curated Table affairs for her employer were lunches for employees. The company found value in “paying to bring our members together for casual lunches where we can learn about common causes and solutions and advocacy,” and, most importantly, “capture that insight,” she said.
She’s now working with organizations that “might have a community they want to bring together more often so they feel branded and grateful to that organization for giving them an opportunity to connect,” she said. “It’s a way for an organization that has an integral conversation vital to their brand to keep a conversation going. We’re adding to that.”
As to how to monetize the Curated Table service, that’s still to be determined. As of now there is no fee but Guzik compels attendees to “generate content on the back end,” such as incisive Tweets and honest testimonials on social media platforms.
“Part of the goal is to show people who may not be familiar with Crystal City that there are young entrepreneurs and cool people who are connecting with one another, and to highlight that more broadly,” she said.
Many companies, particularly small businesses and startups, do not have the manpower for a dedicated event planner. And many millennials need a human connection.
Ah, the millennial need for connection.
“That’s something I can talk about for hours,” she said. “But I don’t know if ‘need’ the right word, but I do think there is a journey.”
And she’s happy to escort them in their journey.
“I see a demand for it,” she said of her service. “The challenge for me now is to determine the value of the service I provide.”