Sometimes, all you need is a little Coffee & Conversation. That’s the philosophy behind Levi Baer’s biweekly Saturday morning meetings, designed “for people that wanted to start the weekend being productive and talk about their side hustles and entrepreneurial projects.” The result is an eclectic group of individuals that stands 70 members strong just one year in. We talked to Baer about the rich entrepreneurial community in Chicago and where he sees Coffee & Conversation going next.
Why did you choose Chicago? Tell us about what it means to be a business in Chicago.
I have been in Chicago for five years, having moved here for graduate school. Chicago is becoming known nationally as a great environment for tech and startups. This made growing C&C, a community not bound by any one industry, all the more important. We pull together the city’s artists, bloggers, lawyers, nonprofits, educators and consultants. The variety of fields and skills represented at the table create a diverse sounding board and resource pool for people who are developing new ventures. Rather than receive one-way communication on a topic, members are able to gain feedback from people who are experiencing similar issues and may provide new perspectives.
At times, we challenge traditional conventions about competitive business. However, everyone involved believes that there are enough resources and clients to go around. By sharing strategies for success, we can boost the entire business ecosystem in Chicago.
If you could go back in time before you became involved in running the business and share one piece of advice with yourself, what would you tell yourself?
Coffee & Conversation has been housed in a few different locations since its inception, including a few cafes and restaurants in Logan Square and currently a new community center in West Town. I would tell my earlier self to not worry too much about the location and to continue to focus on building the community. The group is defined by the people, not by the space.
What are your next steps?
I am excited for Coffee & Conversation to continue to grow and provide resources for anyone trying to do more than their 9 to 5 job! Our biggest challenge is to preserve the richness of small-scale interactions as we bring in more members. We’re planning events and workshops to boost the interaction and productivity of our members and the surrounding community, and I’m trying to plan our first big gala this summer!
Personally, I’ve just launched my own consulting company, bringing my love of interpersonal communication, games, and training to teams and organizations. I’m creating engaging experiences that depart from traditional, boring professional development.
We want to be in the know! Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.
The Chicago Awesome Foundation! Every month they provide a $1,000 grant to an awesome community project that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Sometimes it’s more heartfelt, like a school writing program. Other times, it’s more extreme, like a kung-fu cage! No matter what, it’s always awesome.
Q&As are edited for clarity and length.