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In a dour economy where introverted computer programmers and bean counters have transformed into manic networkers in hopes of landing a job, Steve Steele’s new Web site, FreeChickenWings.com, has — um, well — wings.

The two-month-old site provides vendors, the unemployed, executives and anyone else looking for a good time and free beer with information about upcoming networking and business events. These events include roundtables, workshops, conferences, breakfasts, lunches, evening mixers and chamber of commerce and association events.

The site also puts folks in touch with a group of networkers called “small leads groups.” These selective groups typically range from six to 12 in size and meet once a week over breakfast or lunch. But be forewarned: not anyone can join these groups. They have varying qualifications.

Steele, whose day job is running MindBender Studios, a marketing and design agency, says FreeChickenWings.com started as an email he put together weekly to keep friends and associates abreast of events in the business community. Now he sees it as a tool to help support the business community and lift its spirits.

“Every Sunday night, I would spend two hours finding events and putting together this email,” says Steele. “Finally, I had my programmer automate this system. I thought, ‘Why not make it a search engine? Let’s put it out there and see if we can just get it to pay for itself.'”

Steele uses a spider (a.k.a. Webcrawler) to scour the Web for local networking events. Since the site went live two months ago, more than 2,200 people have subscribed to FreeChickenWings.com’s free weekly email newsletter. Subscribers receive an email every Monday, between 8 and 9 a.m., informing them about the week’s events.

Steele says he expects the site to pay for itself in about four weeks. The site relies primarily on advertising and listings for revenue. But not all listings are fee-based.

There’s no fee to list events that help the business community. Lead-generating events, however, incur a small fee.

If the site takes off as a business, Steele hopes to roll out the site to other metropolitan cities, such as Charlotte, Boston, and northern Virginia. Each city will have a maitre d’ who will go to the events, take pictures and get comments.

Steele named the site FreeChickenWings.com because wings are ubiquitous at networking events.

“After working all day and when I haven’t had dinner yet, the free chicken wings have a halo around them,” says Steele.

Scott Yates joins MCNC

MCNC, a nonprofit that provides high-powered computing and networking services to research institutions statewide, has tapped Scott Yates as corporate communications director. Yates will be responsible for handling writing and media relations projects for the organization. He replaces Yokima Cureton, MCNC’s previous corporate communications director.

This is the third time Yates will be working with Mary Walker, vice president of business development of MCNC’s research and development group and venture finance arm of MCNC. Yates also worked with Walker at Home Director, where she was chief executive officer, and at Equitel. Prior to joining the MCNC, Yates was director of marketing for Inveresk Research Group, a publicly traded contract research organization headquartered in Cary, N.C.

Making the grade

Students of N.C. State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are flocking to PickaProf.com to determine their chances of scoring an “A” in particular courses. The three-year-old Web business helps students find out more about potential professors by posting grade distributions for every course and every professor, as well as the percentage of students who dropped the class.

Pick-a-Prof says the grade histories are obtained directly from university records. Students also contribute to the site by writing reviews of their professors. The site, started by graduates of Texas A&M University, provides information about courses and professors at 56 universities throughout the country. The student government at these universities pays $5,000 to $10,000 a year for the service.

Free Chickenwings