Founder: Jon Severson
Next event: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8 at Ritz Grill, 15 S. Tejon St.
Nine years ago, Jon Severson was sick of not knowing anyone in town, so he put an ad on the Internet.
He started a Yahoo group called Colorado Springs Young Professionals and got a couple buddies to round up as many people as they could. They ended up with 44 professionals younger than 40 sipping beers in the back of SouthSide Johnny’s on a weeknight in January 2003.
“I just wanted to meet new people and hang out with someone other than my coworkers,” Severson said.
He never expected it would turn into a business. And it took a long time for that to happen, but it’s now a growing business with new clubs opening all over the state.
Severson, now 38, kept hosting young professionals groups at bars and restaurants around the city. After about a year, it was starting to consume too much of his time.
“And then one venue said they would pay me if I brought it back,” he said.
That’s when everything changed. He started to take the group more seriously and look at it as a marketing tool. He’s been doing that ever since. And his expertise in connecting young people and reaching that hard-to-get, but lucrative demographic has made him a commodity in the business world.
Severson says he’s been tapped by business executives all over the country for his savvy.
He’s also helped other major young professional groups get more organized, he said. His is the only one like it that he knows of. Most of the others are nonprofit organizations, many of which charge members, or are haphazardly organized, he said.
He’s helped the folks who run the Chicago Young Professionals group, which has become about 25,000 strong. Severson’s network, including the new Denver and Castle Rock clubs, is just about as big.
Those consulting gigs were bolstering his profits from Colorado Springs Young Professionals, he said. But a couple years ago he started working on launching other groups of young professionals in the state and successfully got Denver Young Professionals off the ground in early 2011.
“It’s getting to where it can actually support me now,” he said.
In June, Severson kicked off the Denver YP-South club and just this month, he hosted the first young professionals event in Castle Rock.
“We plan to more than double this year,” he said.
Other expected new clubs include Denver YP-North, Denver YP-West, Denver YP-Cap Hill, Longmont Young Professionals, Summit County Young Professionals, Grand Junction Young Professionals and Pueblo Young Professionals.
There’s room for different clubs in Denver, Severson said, because it’s a big city both in population and geography.
“Usually people won’t go past a certain locale,” he said. “Downtown Denver people, it’s hard to get them to drive to DU, the Tech Center — no way.”
He discovered that when he hosted an event in the Denver Tech Center area and attracted about 100 young professionals, most of them new faces who hadn’t been to the downtown socials.
If a certain club becomes really active or it’s busy enough, Severson said he would consider paying a part-time employee to coordinate everything. Until then, event organizers are typically volunteers, he said.
“They’re connectors,” he said. “Their friends might make more money than they do or they might get more job offers, but they all ask the connectors, ‘What are we doing tonight?’”
Those are the natural group leaders he looks for — and there are a lot of people who love it.
“You ask someone to do something once, like introduce people to each other, and they’ll be at every event doing it,” he said.
The group has grown organically. It just took an extra push to figure out how to make the model work in other cities, Severson said. He still makes a lot of the arrangements himself and he views the group as a marketing tool for companies.
Luke Travins, who co-owns Concept Restaurants, has invited the local Young Professionals to his restaurants and bars upon occasion. Concept Restaurants include the Ritz Grill, Flatiron’s, SouthSide Johnny’s, Jose Muldoon’s, MacKenzie’s Chop House and Johnny’s Navajo Hogan.
“Obviously, it gives me a chance to expose my restaurants to a new and captive audience,” Travins said. “Generally, young professionals are of the demographic that’s going out to eat and drink most frequently.”
He and his partners have opened three new restaurants over the past three years, and Travins said he has called Severson for each of them.
“I wouldn’t say it’s all you need, by any means,” he said. “But I’ve thought it was a good way to spend part of my advertising budget.”
While the group works for businesses and for Severson, he said there’s a good reason — it works for the young professionals.
“When you have people telling you that they had no friends and no business contacts until they came to the YPs, something is working,” he said.