Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky once wrote…

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.

Although it seems everywhere I turn these past couple of weeks I’m being bombarded by big-brand media frenzy surrounding the top ten things I’ve missed at SXSW, a little piece of me is still stuck somewhere below the Mason-Dixon line. More specifically, in the Empire Ballroom of the newly renovated  Hyatt Regency in New Orleans.

I’m still coming off the high of an extremely lucrative stint at Inc. Magazine’s Growco 2012 Conference, but perhaps not lucrative in the sense that I or my colleagues initially expected.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the small team that attended Growco representing Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp. We were both sponsoring and exhibiting at the event. The booth was polished, our shoes shined and we were ready to educate all the attendees about building, monitoring and maintaining their business credit.

Before going, I had a checklist of what I wanted to accomplish: 

  • Planned to see a paramount one-on-one conversation with President Bill Clinton on the role of small business empowerment? CHECK
  • Planned to see self-made multimillionaire Daymond John of FUBU and Shark Tank take down the house with a success story that is literally music to every audience’s ears? CHECK
  • Planned to adhere to a strict diet of entirely Louisiana crawfish ettouffe and beignets? CHECK

What I did not plan on was meeting a deluge of small business owners, each with a particular story to illustrate their journey. Sure I brought my lights, camera and actionable questions, “She had to be preparing for something,” you must say. Still, nothing could have equipped me for the way each perfect stranger answered my queries with such affection and merit.

Chalk it up to Southern hospitality? Maybe. But just maybe there was a more impressive lesson mobilizing here.

Let’s just say, I was more than surprised by the genesis of my takeaways from this event.

Bill Clinton’s one-on-one, facilitated by editor of Eric Schurenberg, was spearheading everyone’s excitement. Monday morning there may as well have been tumbleweeds whirling in the Hyatt halls, while its grand ballroom was buzzing with eager attendees. Stan Zylowski, President and Co-Founder of Merchant View tweeted, “550 Type A  personalities are like 6-year-olds awaiting the Prez. Very heady to be here”.

Very heady indeed.

The former President addressed the issue that is at the forefront of all of our minds and on the tip of all of our tongues: Access to capital for small businesses. Only…he had the answers.

Clinton was not talking to hear the sound of his own voice on a shopworn topic. He was clear that he was there to bridge the gap, educate and raise awareness in a way that small businesses owners could understand.

Equitably dwelling on homeownership as a pathway to economical restoration he said, “By not fixing this system, we’re burning everybody and it’s scalding the economy and it’s freezing up the credit channels for small businesses”.

Clinton even mentioned the 2012 economic forecast  brought about by Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp.’s own research partnership with Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Mangement, “There was a recent survey done by Pepperdine, which is a pretty conservative program and university says that 40 percent of the small businesses they surveyed were having trouble accessing capital”.

While reciting this vexing proportion, Clinton remained plainly determined. For like every other person in that ballroom, he was not going to let these trends be the dream that got away.

After his interview, the 55o Type-A personalities weren’t just buzzing – they were swarming. Not just in limited table shaped pods. There were Twitter storms, social swings and a great deal of traffic at our booth.

Turns out my takeaways from the voices of the White House were just as valuable as the voices hailing from the white picket fences of Mainstreet.

We met Justin Esgar, CEO of Autriv Software Development, who believes in bootstrapping for his micro-business to maintain control of projects. At the same time, he concedes he just doesn’t have the funding to build the next big thing. He fears that it’s difficult for lenders to lock into the fluidity of technology. “It moves,” he says,”…you know it moves“.

“You come to something like this and you kind of hope to trip over somebody and they’ll be like, ‘Hey I like your idea,’ or, ‘I like how your personality works,’ says Esgar. Then he shakes his head and chuckles, “That’s too movie. That doesn’t really happen”.

Although I may not be Justin Timberlake coming to swoop Esgar off his feet and order three rounds of apple-tinis, I did like his idea and how his personality works. Check back with us in a bit as our SVP of Sales is currently looking into Autriv’s signature app, SignMyPad. Esgar had us at, “Hello”.

Photo courtesy of Eva-maria Guggenberger

We met Nicole Di Rocco, of Nicolita Swimwear who started her company almost 10 years ago after selling 2,000 hand-made bags out of her dorm room. In regards to her road to funding Di Rocco said, “For me it was about finding a customer…I decided I needed Nordstrom, picked up the phone and picked up Nordstrom as my first client”.

Note to self: When in doubt – pick up the phone.

I even got to meet my favorite Inc. Magazine columnist, Norm Brodsky and canvassed everything from Twitter etiquette, to failure, to the heart’s significance of waterfront property in Brooklyn over a couple of bowls of gumbo.

Everyone’s story was different. Each ready not to just sell and tell, but to connect.

Stay tuned as we post videos and more perspective from our Growco 2012 ride, and tell me…what are some of your favorite networking tips and stories?