Community leaders, business owners mash, mingle at Evanston-Northwestern networking event

Susan Du, City Editor

Blustery winds didn’t stop Evanston business owners, activists, officials and residents from gathering to discuss the future of their community Wednesday evening.

About 200 people turned out to the third annual MashUp networking event, which was held at Hotel Orrington after its original venue of a Northwestern beachfront tent blew over.

With live music, food provided by local restaurants, makeover demonstrations by student salon Pivot Point Academy and at least two juggling circus performers, MashUp urged participants to mingle and discuss ideas for the future of Evanston businesses, schools, arts and nonprofits.

Joey Conway, events coordinator of sushi restaurant Koi, described MashUp as the one Chamber of Commerce event “everyone looks forward to every year.”

“All of us small business owners, we do it all ourselves,” he said. “We don’t really get a chance to connect with other small businesses and I think that’s the most important thing. I live in the city and I come from city restaurants, where you don’t really get to connect with other small businesses because there are so many and it’s more like each neighborhood has its own niche. But in Evanston it’s a whole community.”

For many participating small businesses, MashUp was an opportunity to meet other business owners and market products. Michael Vasilko of Vasilko Architects and Associates used the event to spread the word about a development project: the transformation of 727-729 Howard St. into a theater for the coming of Edgewater company City Lit Theater.

“It’s all looking very positive,” he said of the project he and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) have been working on for more than a year. “Everyone who lives or works along Howard Street is excited about the idea, so it’s not that I have to do a lot of work but I just want to make sure the other chamber members and other businesses know about it.”

Other items on the agenda at Wednesday’s event included the presentation of three awards: The Corrine Passage Spirit of Evanston Award, BurgerWar Winners and the Catalyst Award, which recognizes efforts to improve relations between the city and Northwestern.

This year, the Catalyst Award was granted to Kemi Jona, director of the Office of STEM Education Partnerships, and Supterintendent Eric Witherspoon of the Evanston Township High School.

Eugene Sunshine, NU’s senior vice president of business and finance, and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl presented the award in recognition of STEM’s work to promote science learning at ETHS.

“The city is proud to be part of the MashUp, and as for the Catalyst Award, Northwestern University has always worked well with the Evanston school systems,” Tisdahl said. “But recently Northwestern has decided to make sure that Evanston Township High School is the number one high school in the United States.”