CougsFirst-250SEATTLE – At CougsFirst!, the free annual showcase of Washington State University-related businesses, alumni and friends will shop and network 4-8 p.m. Thursday, March 10, in a new venue – the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

During the post-show, 8-10:30 p.m., attendees and exhibitors will enjoy music and continue networking over no-host beverages and complimentary hors d’oeuvres.

Admission to both events is free, but organizers recommend pre-registering at http://CougsFirst.org to avoid lines at check-in.

Exhibit space is sold out, with more than 120 businesses and organizations from around the state showcasing a wide variety of merchandise, services, prize drawings and special discounts. Shoppers will find everything from automobiles, apparel and apples to tax services, vacation destinations and wineries. All the companies are owned or managed by alumni of WSU.

In addition to a “fun and productive way to conduct business,” the event is a source of business leads throughout the year, said exhibitor Brian Quint.

For example, recent WSU graduate Kyle Martin credits CougsFirst! with connecting him to a “dream job.” He encountered an old friend at a previous show who was the human resources manager at the Kirkland, Wash., Heathman Hotel. Martin interviewed the next day and was offered (and accepted) the position of assistant restaurant manager.

“Our goal is to use special events, social media, advertising and other marketing so WSU alumni and friends can network and interact in a positive business environment,” said CougsFirst! board member and co-founder Rob Tobeck, owner of Griffin MacLean Insurance Brokers.

From 40 exhibitors in 2013, the show’s inaugural year, it has attracted a sold-out roster of 120 this year and a waiting list for exhibit space. Organizers expect more than 1,500 alumni and friends to take part.