May 5th 2014
By Elizabeth Kim
Way before the tech boom ushered in the era of entrepreneurship and the quest by almost everyone to create the hottest app, Kate Berg was just someone who knew how to make astute judgments about people and the marketplace. In 1986, the New Canaan native was living in the ski town of Sun Valley, Idaho, when she stumbled upon a simple-yet-profound observation.
Riding the free shuttle to the resort, she noticed bedraggled tourists arriving on vacation carrying not only luggage but also bags of food they had bought in town.
“What a drag, they are schlepping groceries on their vacation. Who wants to spend that special time with your family doing grocery shopping?” she recalled thinking to herself.
So she and her friends started Mountain Delivery, a business that enabled ski vacationers to order groceries and other supplies in advance. Working with the resort, Berg and her partners stocked their rooms prior to check-in, while adding warm touches like a bouquet of flowers.
Within a year, they sold the company for $125,000 to a local chef.
She was 22.
Now, at 50, Berg has cobbled a successful career in strategic communications, starting at Gartner, a technology research company based in Stamford, and in helping launch several tech startups, including her own social networking site for Fairfield County that was, in her words, “MeetUp and Facebook mushed together.”
Most recently, she has started a series of events at The Stamford Innovation Center called “The Art of Business.” The aim is to provide a relaxed casual atmosphere for people to share ideas, or in her words, “give them oxygen and light,” and also bring in individuals from disparate and creative fields like fashion, architecture and photography.
“It’s never been easier for us as humans to get in touch with our creative selves,” she said during an interview on Monday at the Innovation Center’s home in Old Town Hall.
She cited YouTube, as well as the current darling of the e-commerce industry, Etsy, as examples of how technology has encouraged people to turn talent into enterprise.
“Technology enables rapid adoption and rapid visibility,” she said. “To me, it’s a good thing.”
Like the Innovation Center — an entrepreneurial hub funded by corporate sponsors as well as a $500,000 grant from the state — the events are a kind of experiment to see who will show up. The rest is up to Berg, an easy-going and natural conversationalist.
“She brings a lot of energy to the party,” said Peter Propp, the Innovation Center’s chief marketing officer who asked to partner with Berg on the series.
Unlike some of the other events, Berg’s are more purely focused on the notion that networking or connecting with other professionals is “something you have to work on,” Propp said.
Acquiring that skill is in keeping with the Innovation Center’s mission, which is to foster conversation among entrepreneurs and make Stamford a hub for tech startups. According to Propp, more than 8,000 people have attended events and classes at the center since its opening in November 2012.
Berg’s first event, in March, drew about 50 people. Tickets were $20 apiece.
The cost included a performance of live musicians, an idea based on something she learned while talking to the tech analysts at Gartner. “When you bring music to a conversation, it’s a barrier dropper,” she said.
After sharing her war stories, Berg encouraged those in attendance to keep in touch, handing out her personal phone number and email. Six “counseling sessions” have since resulted, she said. She is looking forward to hearing updates from the individuals in a month.
Berg’s next event on May 21 at Old Town Hall will feature Andrew Bergmann, the creative director for CNNMoney, who will share his views on branding strategies.
The event is part of Internet Week New York, a festival focused on that city’s emerging tech industry.
Berg also is teaching a workshop in mobile marketing next week at the New Canaan Library.
“These people have great business ideas and they are pouring their lives into them,” she said. “I think I can help and save them some time. Because you learn from what you do and you should share your lessons.”