They've Got A Good GRYP

May 7, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The second meeting of the Grand Rapids Young Professionals (GRYP) may have proved that this casual networking group put together by seven local professionals is here to stay.

In its first meeting in March, more than 100 up-and-coming members of the Grand Rapids professional work force came out for the opportunity to mingle and network. On Thursday, April 29, despite only bare-bones marketing, 120 people showed up at Billy's Lounge in Eastown for the second meeting.

"This was all completely viral marketing," explained Kathy Apotheker, the 25-year-old president of the GRYP board of directors. "We printed up a few fliers, but mostly it was all word of mouth."

"We just e-mailed our circle of friends," added 25-year-old Andrea Speers, GRYP vice president of communication and membership. "Then they passed it along, and soon enough we were getting all these e-mails from people we didn't know asking us about it."

The group began earlier this year as nothing more than a topic of conversation between the two and a handful of friends. Knowing of similar groups in Holland and Chicago, the seven friends, representing the spectrum of local, professional occupations, recognized a need for a casual, no-cost networking group in Grand Rapids.

So the two public relations specialists — Speers is the community relations coordinator at Gerald R. Ford International Airport and Apotheker is an account representative at North Star Public Relations — joined with RE/MAX Realtor Josh May, Universal Insurance Services' Jim Karrip, North Star's Kelly Smallegan and brothers Dave and Paul Reinert, owners and operators of Monte's bar, to form GRYP.

"We were surprised that a group like this hadn't already formed," Apotheker said. "But we weren't surprised that there was a need."

"We were surprised no one had thought of it before," Speers added.

The concept is simple: Young professionals gather in a casual setting, wearing casual attire and share a drink, with an opportunity — but not an obligation — to make friends and contacts, with no membership dues or responsibilities.

"There are groups for people within their own specialty," explained Speers, who met Apotheker through the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. "Those are great, but there wasn't a group to meet people outside of your profession. We wanted to establish a cross-professional group."

There are a handful of cross-professional groups in Grand Rapids, the two acknowledged, but most award membership as a burden. Membership dues and referral obligations are common, and attendance is expected, if not required.

"We wanted to provide a networking opportunity at no cost that wasn't formal, where you don't have to feel obligated to go," Apotheker explained.

"It is important that it be free (of cost) and a casual atmosphere," Speers said. "If people are new to the area or to their profession, it can be very difficult to meet people. We don't want people to be forced to talk to people. We want to provide a self-motivated networking opportunity."

In attendance were representatives of technology, health care, banking, and social work organizations, among others.

That second meeting saw an expansion of GRYP's focus. With its first priority still to provide networking opportunities, the group has branched out into components of professional development and community involvement.

At the beginning of each monthly meeting, a keynote speaker will deliver a brief presentation. In April, the 15-minute advice session was provided by Don McCarthy, COO of the local YMCA.

The next meeting will feature Laura Scheid, director of talent and organization at Huntington Bank, who will give a presentation on business etiquette.

With no shortage of ideas, GRYP is developing a volunteer project that will involve leadership and the environment.

"There are a lot of great (volunteer) groups around here," Speers said. "And not to take away from them, but we wanted one specifically for young professionals."

Between the first and second meetings, GRYP has found support from local businesses and nonprofits, including Huntington Bank, RE/MAX Realty, North Star Public Relations and the YMCA, as well as state and local government, with Gov. Jennifer Granholm expressing support during a local visit and Mayor George Heartwell committed to speak at a meeting during the summer months.

Also, GRYP has contacted the already well-established Holland and newly formed Muskegon groups in hopes of putting together a combined event.

The day of the second meeting, GRYP launched its Web site, www.GRYP.org, developed pro bono by Skyblocks.

The next meeting will be on May 27 at Crush in The BOB, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The seven founding members have settled into board positions, in hopes that a board of directors will establish a lasting foundation.

"We want the group to outlive our involvement," Speers said.

"We really want people in the group," Apotheker added. "We really want people to feel some ownership in it."    

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