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Posted: January 01, 2009

A ray of hope from the young and the professional

Cote’s Colorado

Mike Cote

Jon Severson talks a good game. The founder of Young Professionals chapters in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Denver loves to bring people together and make connections, preferably over a cocktail.

Since June, Denver Young Professionals, the latest chapter in the group he founded in Colorado Springs five years ago, has been staging events around downtown solely through word of mouth and postings at www.DenverYoungProfessionals.com.

There’s no cover charge for the events, held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month. And about the only formal agenda comes when someone pulls a few business cards out of a bowl to announce free ski passes and other sponsor giveaways.

Severson was inspired to start the group back when he was an advertising rep at the The Gazette in Colorado Springs. A new transplant from Las Vegas, he bemoaned the lack of places to meet people his own age. So he created one. Now he balances his time between organizing Young Professionals events, including charity fundraisers, and working as associate publisher for Peak Region Cyclist, a Colorado Springs-based biking magazine.

In the early days, friends called Severson’s fledging organization his personal “shooting fish in a barrel” pickup club, but he says the group offers a good networking alternative to just showing up at a random bar.

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“Do you really want to hang out with the kids and drink penny pitchers?” says Severson, 34.

After meeting at the ColoradoBiz offices in November, Severson and I agree to continue our conversation, and he invites me to the Colorado Springs chapter’s next event. The reason he happened to be in town was because the Denver group was meeting that night. I’m not sure I’m up to hanging out with the Gen Y crowd so I don’t commit.

As the work day nears its end, however, I realize how ready I am for some good cheer. Where better to find a tonic for the bleak economy than in a roomful of twenty- and thirty-somethings?

I know I made the right choice when I spy the packed room at the Mynt Mojito Lounge, a bar on Market Street. And I know the owners must be happy tonight: They have a crowd of 200 partying on a Wednesday.

To a cynical novice, the atmosphere might have suggested nothing more than a roomful of young people drinking and cavorting. But just like the older professionals who congregate at chamber-of-commerce after-hours, they were mixing business with pleasure.

“If you can get people who want to network with a certain energy and a certain optimism, there’s an opportunity there,” says Ira Johnson, who hosts the Denver chapter events. A longtime buddy of Severson’s from their days at Luther College in Iowa, Johnson, 34, runs Conifer-based printing company Happy Llama.

Within a half hour of arriving at the Mynt, I was introduced to a financial adviser; the host of the Denver Divas women networking group; and the brains behind a couple of tech startups, including brightkite, a Boulder social networking company featured in July as the ColoradoBiz Tech Startup of the Month.

Heidi Teeters, an account executive from The Gazette who traveled from Colorado Springs with a few friends to see Severson, says the events have helped her job. She said she’s concerned but not shaken by the prospect of tough economic times.

“I think it sucks, but if you’re optimistic, you’ll make it happen,” the 27-year-old says. “I’m not afraid of the economy at all.”

Victoria Fielden, 26, and Ian McManus, 29, sized up the crowd as the target audience for buzzherd.com, their business and social networking startup. Both are optimistic about their prospects.

Fielder, a native of UK, says “people seem to be breathing a bit easier” since the election of Barack Obama, while McManus chooses words that show he’s learned a thing or two from his mentors: Some of those laid off workers will start businesses.

“A stagnating job market becomes a more entrepreneurial environment,” McManus says.

Well spoken, kid. We’ll be rooting for you. Now, tell me; what’s the drink special tonight?

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

I have been a member of CSYP for a few years now & it has been a great place to meet other young driven people. I moved to the Denver & can't wait to attend a social. I'm bringing some of my co-workers. Jon has done a great job! By Netanya on 2009 01 08

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