Danya C. Pugliese came to Keene four years ago, from Brooklyn, N.Y., for a weeklong trip — she never left.

Not because, coincidentally, she met her husband and her business partner the same day, but because “it was meant to be; I was drawn here,” Pugliese, 27, said. “And I think that’s what happens to everyone when they come here. People want to be a part of this.”

The “this” to which she refers is a strong sense of community, vision and innovation.

Those were driving themes for Wednesday’s CONNECT2016: Heart of the Start gala at the Colony Mill Marketplace attended by more than 400 people. Presented by the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship and The Sentinel, it was a night of networking and recognition.

More than that, it was a night about possibilities.

Pugliese co-owns Machina Arts, which showcased at Wednesday’s event the work of 11 region businesses.

Five entrepreneurs from the region were honored Wednesday for their ingenuity. Each received a gnome-looking wooden trophy, the creation by local artist Timothy Campbell, that was made especially for each honoree.

The award presented to Amanda Littleton, 34, the entrepreneur of the year, for example, featured veggies rooted in the hardware of the award. It was meant to represent Monadnock Menus, a program Littleton has helped to build and that features the aggregation and dissemination of local farm products. Primarily, for now, many of the food products go to area schools.

Staff from Bensonwood of Walpole accepted an award with a hammer, screwdriver and saw crafted around a little wooden man with a miniature house on top of his head, since building homes is the thrust of the work that Bensonwood does.

StringRay Optics received an award for its product line, some of which allows people to see themselves through a different light — literally. True North Networks was honored for its service, and W.S. Badger Company, Inc., was recognized for its philosophy: “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

Video presentations of the honored businesses, and their respective pioneering process, were displayed on a large screen in the spacious second-floor room of the Colony Mill Marketplace where attendees mingled and snacked.

Michael Knapp, CEO of Green River, a Brattleboro software company, gave the keynote speech.

He railed against the negative effects on society and community of greed and short-sighted social policy.

His company has been used in education, health care, supply chain management and on societal issues involving homelessness and protection of the environment.

The company is perhaps best known for its collaboration with Starbucks to promote ethical sourcing, growing and harvesting of coffee beans. After years of combined efforts, Green River has developed a software platform that now certifies all Starbucks coffee, growers, harvesters and manufactured goods.

Attendees interrupted Knapp’s remarks more than once, signaling agreement with applause.

The night wasn’t only for already-proven entrepreneurs but for future entrepreneurs as well.

Dan Flynn of Keene wants to start a business. He’s been working on a project for 10 years and came to the event to give him a boost of encouragement.

“I thought coming here would give me some confidence,” said Flynn, who listened intently to the speakers and those behind the success stories being recognized. “To see all of these people having done this is amazing.”

He explained that he likes his well-paid, secure job, but he’s always felt like an entrepreneur.

“There’s nothing like working for yourself; man, I’ll tell ya,” Flynn said.

Flynn wants, in some form, to coach men transitioning from married life with children to the life of being a single dad, he said. He hopes to launch within a year.

Daniel Prial of Keene came for the same reason.

He wants to help businesses and organizations better connect with the community, he explained.

Prial picked up his new business cards Wednesday morning and launched his website two days ago.

“It’s scary!” Prial said. “But being here feels good. It helps.”

It was hard not to feel inspired by some of what was on display.

Stepping into a funky, sophisticated energy of dim red and blue lights and electronic music set the mood for creative thought on this night.

A custom-designed, $64,000 motorcycle built by Walt Siegl of Walt Siegl Motorcycles in Harrisville was the welcoming attraction at the entrance to the room.

Other installations included an interactive floating granite sphere from ABTech; live artist haircutting by The Barbery; a 3D printer creating mosaic tiles; designer “bathtub” furniture from Khameleon Koatings; an infrared photo booth by Stingray Optics; and a revolutionary drinking water dispenser by Filtrine Manufacturing Co.

Tasteful white lights inside beakers were the centerpieces on black tables at which people shared stories and experiences.

Like the awards, some of the food was innovative, including skewers of mozzarella and tomato set in a small vase. The vase, when squeezed with the cheese and tomato in your mouth, delivered a splash of oil and vinegar.

Pugliese and her business partner, Rebecca Hamilton, wanted the art and the artists to be the event, to represent a sliver of Monadnock life.

“To be in a community like this, you’re more than just part of a crowd,” Pugliese said.

“These are genuine people who are devoted to their community,” she continued. “And you won’t find this everywhere.”

Callie Ginter can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409 or cginter@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @CGinterKS.