Jennifer goes to things and does stuff Jennifer Levin finds herself in MIXed company
When MIX started Third Thursday networking events for young professionals in Santa Fe, it sounded like the hipster answer to monthly Chamber of Commerce events, where it can feel like everyone is trying to sell you life insurance. MIX is more like a cocktail party with the cool kids. Five years and 55 schmooze-fests later, MIX has emerged as a force for good in the local economy with bizMIX, its annual business-plan competition that awards start-up funds for each year’s best new business idea. After Santa Sidra, a local outfit that makes hard ciders, won in 2013, its owners, Mike and Stacy Zercher, used their $8,000 prize money to buy their first crop of New Mexico apples; now they operate a cidery on Camino Carlos Rey. The 2015 bizMIX prize, sponsored by local banks and businesses, has increased to $50,000.
Cider House MIX — all the MIX events have creative names — was held at Santa Sidra on March 19. I went and talked to the people there. All ages were in attendance, instantly knocking out one of my preconceptions. The crowd definitely veered toward the artsy and funky, but many professions were represented, from teachers and artists to scientists and political aids. I talked to an architect named Michael Duty, who was sporting a phenomenal waxed mustache and beard he grew on his honeymoon in 1968. “With this beard I’ve been a hippie, a professional, a member of the intelligentsia, and now a geezer. Same look, different time,” he said. It was his first MIX event.
I talked to Brittany Smith, a twenty-four-year-old wedding planner with Plum Studio who hangs out at MIX with Tantri Wija, a videographer with High Desert Digital who also writes about food for The Santa Fe
New Mexican . Santa Fe is the third most popular location for destination weddings in the United States, Smith told me, noting how paradoxical it is that the lack of wedding-related businesses here can make planning weddings difficult for locals — most of her clientele is from out of state. Her job is always different, always interesting. “At the receptions, the drunk mothers-in-law latch onto me and tell me all the dirty family secrets,” she said.
Emily Geery, a water-resources specialist with the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, was there with her friend Jill Turner, who works for the New Mexico Environment Department: They had heard MIX is a good place to meet friends for a cocktail. There is always a cash bar, and filling out a survey generally entitles you to one free house drink, which this time around was a choice between dry or sweet hard cider. Many people I spoke to were excited that Cider House MIX was closer to where a lot of people actually live, instead of downtown, where MIX usually takes place. Clemente McFarlane, the owner of Sirius Cycles, a bike shop in Rodeo Plaza, wants to host a MIX and use the occasion to highlight businesses on Santa Fe’s south side. “I need to learn how to network, and MIX needs to get more comfortable with more diversity — maybe be less white,” he said.
I talked to MIX co-founders Zane Fischer and Daniel Werwath, who told me that this year’s theme is “Getting more out of MIX.” They want to spend more time taking action and less time discussing yet again what doesn’t work in Santa Fe. “We’re getting more introspective this year,” Fischer said.
This brings me to the critical part of this column. MIX is obviously doing great things — check out its website for more information on grants and funding — and the networking events can be enjoyable. But much of what was supposedly happening at MIX was unclear, though a story appeared in The Santa Fe New
Mexican two weeks after the Cider House MIX event. No announcements were made about entering bizMIX. No public remarks were made and no literature was distributed about MIX; other than a drink ticket, the only thing I was handed was an invitation to a Rotary Club luncheon. A couple of people told me that there was a business launch taking place for Slazer Technologies, a digital signage and media company, but there was no indication what that meant for either the company or the rest of us. Trucker hats, on which attendees completed the sentence “Helping MIX shape the city,” proliferated atop heads as the evening wore on, but I couldn’t figure out their ultimate purpose or who was eligible to wear one. While the overall energy of the event was positive, there was an in-crowd atmosphere that I would have found intimidating if I wasn’t there as a reporter.
The too-cool vibe began before the event, with its invitation on Facebook. “What’s got 50,000 pounds of New Mexico apples, 3 stainless steel vats, a forklift, and a Third Thursday MIX event this March 19th?” it asked. The next sentence offered this answer: “If you guessed the ghost of John Irving and his industrial noise band — good try!”
I called to check, and Santa Sidra actually does have four stainless-steel vats. But the most perplexing aspect was the thin connection made to The Cider House Rules , the novel by John Irving, who is definitely still alive. I can’t tell if MIX doesn’t know this or doesn’t care, and I don’t get the joke. I don’t know what to take from it, and it continues to distract me. Better efforts at communication are needed if MIX wants more people to get involved and understand its mission. And while the food, which was provided by chef Marc DeGiovanni of local catering company Delunchous, was excellent and plentiful, the music was much too loud. Networking is exhausting enough without having to shout.
Entries for the 2015 bizMIX competition will be accepted through April 16 at www.mixsantafe.com.
— Jennifer Levin