When a business awards ceremony hands out guitars in lieu of trophies, you know the party’s going to be more hip than humdrum. Wednesday night’s Entreverge event didn’t disappoint, serving up five winners inside the chic confines of the Port City Music Hall nightclub in Portland.

Hosted by PROPEL, the young professional club of the Portland Regional Chamber, the affair was inaugurated last year as a way to recognize the up-and-coming innovators of the area’s creative economy. And like all the group’s events, Entreverge is deliberately different from more traditional business get-togethers.

“We work on making our events more fun,” said Justin Lamontagne, of CBRE/The Boulos Company and the chair of PROPEL. “Networking is hard. Meeting new people is hard. The more informal and fun environment you can create, the better it is.”

To that end the Entreverge party featured a snapshot photo booth (set up by Emilie Sommer, who owns emilie inc. and was one of the 2009 Entreverge winners), a performance by the Jason Spooner Trio and a selection of trendy passed hors d’oeuvres (which included a hipster dose of vegetarian offerings).

“It’s a really unique event tapping into a market that doesn’t get a lot of exposure,” said June Usher, who serves on the Entreverge event committee and works for Bangor Savings Bank. “It’s what Maine’s all about, cultivating entrepreneurs and the creative economy.”

According to Lamontagne, the organizers looked at the nominees’ impact on the community, their sustainable practices and how they would benefit from the award. The nominating committee also sought to recognize companies that are relatively new. From a list of more than 40 nominees, PROPEL managed to whittle it down to the following winners: Nathan Deyesso, who owns DSO Creative Fabrications, a custom furniture manufacturer known for using reclaimed materials; Rich Brooks, who owns Flyte New Media, a Web design and Internet marketing company; Charlotte Leavitt, who owns Chart Metalworks, a company that incorporates nautical charts into jewelry; Kim Anderson, who owns North Star Music Cafe, an entertainment venue and restaurant serving local and organic meals; and Kristie Green, who owns Maple’s Organics, which crafts organic gelato and sorbetto from local ingredients.

In addition to the guitars, the winners get access to established business owners, numerous publicity opportunities and complimentary admission to a number of professional events during the coming year.

The 2009 winners said the connections made with other business owners were the most valuable piece of the package.

“What it did for us is open doors that would have been difficult to open on our own,” said Sommer.

As part of her winning package, Sommer scored a meeting with design superstar Angela Adams, from whom Sommer was able to get advice about the process of hiring employees. As a result of the tips she received, Sommer went on to hire six more employees for her growing photography business.

Adrianne Zahner, who owns Turtle Love Co. and was another 2009 winner, said “probably the most useful thing was being able to access a network (of other business people) that didn’t exist before.”

Fellow 2009 winner Rob Landry of Pemaquid Communications agreed.

“It was great to network with some heavy-hitters like Angus King and David Shaw of Idexx,” Landry said. “What I learned is that there are no magic bullets. There’s no substitute for hard work.”

Susan Pye of Merrill Lynch did an excellent job chairing this year’s event. She introduced me to Russell Voss, of Voss Consulting Group, who will chair the 2011 awards ceremony.

“We want to keep Portland growing and a beacon for Maine,” Voss said. “As we grow the alumni of winners, we can have a good network of businesses who can support each other.”

In addition to the support, the awards encourage the recipients to expand their skill sets.

As winner Rich Brooks said: “Now I have to learn how to play guitar.” 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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