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North Hills Monthly

Pittsburgh Social Exchange Promotes Business Networking

Mar 01, 2017 08:26AM ● By Erica Cebzanov

Pat McCune, Lucas Piatt, Ethan Nicholas and Dr. Ted Steliotes. Photo courtesy of Michael Leonardi, Candidly Yours Photography

Pittsburgh Social Exchange (PSE) President and CEO Ethan Nicholas believes that it’s not about what you know, but who you know.

“People do business with people that they’ve met and that they trust; and it’s hard to do that unless you’ve had some sort of in-person contact,” he explained.

Founded in 2009, PSE initially had around 700 members who connected primarily via Facebook. When Nicholas purchased the company in 2010, he started charging annual membership dues and minimal fees for members to attend events; he also made nonmembers pay higher event fees, which promoted membership.

“That’s when the Pittsburgh Social Exchange really became something,” he said. “Now we have close to 29,000 (email) subscribers in Pittsburgh, and we’re one of the largest social chambers of commerce in the northeastern United States.”

A Slippery Rock University graduate with French, Spanish and business degrees, Nicholas said he gained sales and interpersonal communications experience working for a direct marketing company starting in his late teens. During his time with the company, he was able to recruit and train more than 1,300 people. 

Approximately 300 to 600 attendees attend the PSE’s monthly events occurring at “hip, high-end” venues; a recent presentation, for example, was The Art of Networking at the Andy Warhol Museum.

“We invited every mayor from all of the major municipalities in the city, so it was a unique opportunity to meet the leadership from all of these boroughs and check out the Warhol, and at the same time, network with other business owners,” said Nicholas.

In partnership with the Pittsburgh Downtown Rotary Club, the PSE regularly invites notable presenters to its Executive Speaker & Luncheon Series. Upcoming guests include Jeff Broadhurst, president of Eat ‘n Park Hospitality Group; Ed Stack, president of Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The PSE also hosts Lunch and Learn Workshops with speakers from diverse industries including public relations, technology and human resources. “Friendships have developed over the group’s Cigar and Scotch Workshops,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas also believes that his company has a social obligation to use these occasions for a greater purpose; the PSE highlights a different nonprofit at most monthly events and has raised a total of more than $100,000 for local organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Highmark Caring Place, Light of Life Rescue Mission and The Challenge Program Inc.

While there is a misconception that the PSE is a young professionals group, most members fall within the 35-55 age range, according to Nicholas.

“Our organization caters to corporate-level executives, business owners, people with experience; a lot of success stories,” he said. “And people who aspire to become leaders or people who want to mingle with those types of individuals can come for a pretty nominal fee.

“Membership is pretty affordable,” he continued. “It’s actually very competitive compared to other associations in the area and we feel that our value, as far as business networking goes, is probably the highest in the region.”

Justin Garlow, a Ford Business Machines Inc. owner and director of sales, attributes one-fourth to one-third of his sales to connections he has made through the PSE. “I try not to miss them unless I’m sick or otherwise unavailable,” he said regarding the group’s events, adding that some of his favorites have occurred at LeMont on Mount Washington and Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale.

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