Paul McAvinchey wanted to meet people.
A native of Ireland, he moved to Cleveland in 2012 to be closer to his wife's family and began searching for fellow tech entrepreneurs. But unlike other cities where he'd lived, it wasn't so easy. So McAvinchey grabbed the problem by the beer tap and created TechPint, a new kind of tech conference.
"This is a very cheap way of making friends," says the product innovation manager for MedCity Media.
TechPint launched in June at Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City, where a sellout crowd of 200 gathered over beers to hear three tech CEOs discuss their startup successes and failures. In September, another 250 met at Sterle's Country House. On Dec. 5, McAvinchey will host the first Akron TechPint at Uncorked.
"You look at Chicago or Silicon Valley or New York or Boston, the startup communities there are very tightly knit," he says. "They're very dense with more established ways of connecting and working with each other. But you look at a city like Cleveland, where there's a lot of people here, but we're very much spread out across the region. We have a density problem."
McAvinchey got his first computer, a custom-built PC with a 16 MHz processor and 16 MB hard drive, as a Christmas present. Although what he really wanted was a gaming system — a Nintendo or even a Commodore 64. "But my dad wisely chose to give me this big gray box instead," he says.
Yet, McAvinchey was always more interested in creating things — graphics, audio and design — than programming. So he got a degree in journalism and media from Griffith College Dublin and put it to use marketing his brother's touring Riverdance show. "It was a fun and interesting job for six months," he says.
After a second stint in college, McAvinchey landed a gig as a user interface developer at AOL. "I felt compelled to go back and learn the foundational stuff," he says. "I'm glad that I did."
While still in Ireland, he took inspiration from his brother's career and created Diddlyi in 2008, an Irish dance website that offers beginner-to-advanced lessons via video. "For $10 a month people could learn to dance from all these great stars," he says.
To develop Diddlyi, McAvinchey and his wife, Rebecca Feliciano, a Cleveland native he'd met while in college, moved to Munich. Eventually the couple moved to Chicago, where he took a job designing online products and video slot machines for WMS.
Those years provided his most valuable asset: perspective. He can be more decisive when building new products based on a technology's limitations and potential. "It excites me seeing all that can be done with technology," he says. "It keeps me awake a lot at night."
After the couple welcomed their first child, they began thinking about moving to Cleveland. McAvinchey now manages MedCity's website and other projects, while Rebecca oversees Diddlyi.
As TechPint's organizer and moderator, McAvinchey leads the discussions in a thick Irish brogue. Speakers have included Hotcards CEO John Gadd and John Knific of DecisionDesk. Each event ends with an hour or more to sip beers, network and chitchat with the other entrepreneurs. With TechPint's expansion into Akron, McAvinchey expects eight events in 2014, each held at a different bar.
"I'm a believer that great things come from casual encounters," McAvinchey says. "We're a tech conference first and foremost, and the bonus is that we serve pints. It only helps to relax the mood and it makes people comfortable."