You could say networking is the focus of the new business Engage and its signature Connector Program, but founder Brooke Boyle says it's more about helping people figure out "What comes next for me in Ann Arbor?"
Networking is only part of what the recently launched Connector Program does, Boyle says.
"That's the piece that is familiar to people," she says. "But it's really about changing the way we interact with each other, learning how to not just try to relate to the person across from us but discover something new based on our differences."
Boyle personally vets applicants to the program and matches each "connectee" with three "connectors." They get to know each other over coffee or another casual meeting, and then the connector makes three introductions to individuals in the connector's network. Neither connectors nor connectees are charged for the service, but companies can choose to pay to put employees through the Connector Program.
The program is based on a Canadian networking system called the Halifax Model but tweaked for Ann Arbor. It doesn't just connect people to professionals and career-related opportunities but helps those who participate get more involved in their local community when they're off the clock. That might include finding a nonprofit's board to serve on or finding a community band or orchestra they want to play with in their spare time.
While the benefit to connectees is obvious, connectors and the companies they work for also benefit from the program by attracting new talent they might not otherwise encounter as well as helping new employees adjust to life in Ann Arbor.
Boyle says she vets connectors to make sure they really do have time to mentor and help a connectee. Once she matches a connectee with a connector, she strongly recommends that they meet in person within five days, so as not to lose enthusiasm or momentum.
"We want connectors to be honest about whether they have the bandwidth to do this," she says. "With the busy lives we all have, sometimes we'll say yes when maybe we should say no. I want them to actually take a look at their availability and really buy into supporting that person, and if they can't, we will introduce them to another connector."
Engage began a testing phase in August 2017 and it did a soft launch earlier this year. It already has more than 45 local businesses and community leaders serving as connectors. Boyle aims to bring 150 connectors onboard and run 100 connectees through the program in the coming year.
Boyle recently welcomed Ann Arbor SPARK as a funding partner to subsidize putting newcomers through the Connector Program as part of an effort to attract and retain creative talent to the greater Ann Arbor area.
"People have day jobs, but they also have passions that extend beyond that. (The Connector Program) helps them find that local organization they wouldn't have found on their own in their first six months in Ann Arbor," she says. "We're helping them feel 'in the know' about things a townie would say they must know about Ann Arbor."
This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Katie Alexis Photography.