Inside Track: Supinski finds people component essential
The career of Emerge West Michigan’s director has evolved in an entrepreneurial fashion.
From the political arena in Washington, D.C., to supporting entrepreneurs in West Michigan, Laurie Supinski’s career path has taken her on an exciting journey.
As program director at Emerge West Michigan, Supinski facilitated the aggregation of resources and oversight of the nonprofit organization’s website.
“Emerge is really trying to help create and define an ecosystem in West Michigan that supports entrepreneurs, and the organization is evolving as we speak. Our goal as an organization is to reach out and make sure we are including all of the counties we serve,” said Supinski.
“The first piece of the project was to have this collaborative website up and running.”
Emerge West Michigan, a regional collaborative organization that connects entrepreneurs with businesses and resources, officially launched in September 2014 with its online platform and continues to evolve to meet the needs of entrepreneurs.
“Being part of the process — really trying to shape and make something, make this organization kind of grow — is exciting to me,” said Supinski. “I am not looking for the next step because I have never operated that way. I like being in positions where you are creating something.”
Although brought on board due to her previous experience with the Newaygo County Economic Development Office and Newaygo County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Supinski said her professional career path has been an interesting journey.
With a Bachelor of Science in education and an academic background in business from the University of Hartford, Connecticut, Supinski originally saw herself pursuing a career in human relations. Then she travelled to the nation’s capital for an internship with Amtrak during her senior year of college.
“I’ve always been a people person, so there has always been a people component to what I like to do, but when I did an internship in Washington, D.C., it completely changed what I wanted to do,” she said. “I got bit by the Washington, D.C., political bug. My roommate was from California and she worked for her congressman. I thought it seemed like the most interesting, fun job in the world.”
Upon completing her degree, Supinski moved to Washington to find employment with a congressman on Capitol Hill and landed a job with her own representative from New York for six years.
“It was perfect: I knew all of the issues and the people from the district,” said Supinksi. “Then I thought lobbying sounded really interesting, so I got a job at the Consumer Electronic Association as a lobbyist, and I loved that.”
The CEA is the trade association for the consumer technology industry and produces the International Consumer Electronics Show, an annual event that brings together more than 150,000 retail buyers, distributors, manufacturers and market analysts from roughly 150 countries.
“When I was at the trade association, they actually did two shows a year — one in Las Vegas in January and another one in June at McCormick Place in Chicago,” said Supinski.
“Our role as the lobbying government relations department was to invite members of Congress, members of their staff and members of the administration to come out to see the show and introduce them to members of the industry. We would have board meetings and we would do legislative panel discussions.”
Supinski worked with the association for four to five years before moving to Indianapolis with her future husband, who had an opportunity to open a hotel there.
Supinksi worked with a conservative think-tank, the Hudson Institute.
“We moved to Indianapolis and it was kind of hard. I didn’t know anyone, I had no connections, really,” said Supinski. “It wasn’t a good fit for my husband or I. We were there for two years, got married during that timeframe, and then we were looking to leave, and he ended up getting a job here in Grand Rapids.”
Supinski found a job in project management at Knoll, a furniture design firm and manufacturer, where she worked for three years before moving into the same type of role at Steelcase.
After working at Steelcase for five or six years, Supinski decided to devote her time to running a bed and breakfast and fly-fishing service her husband had opened in Newaygo: the Gray Drake Lodge and Outfitters.
“My husband left the hotel business and opened up a fly-fishing guide service. We run a bed and breakfast lodge on the Muskegon River. He is a writer and well known in the fly-fishing arena,” she said. “We have done that for 20 years. I love it. You meet great people. It is something he is passionate about and I like the hospitality aspect of it.”
Supinski also became involved with the community, including the Chamber of Commerce in Newaygo and serving as a member of the board of the Economic Development Office in Newaygo.
“Our business obviously brought people in from all over the place, so I had brought the tourism perspective to the board. Eventually, the board and the county decided they wanted to start a Convention and Visitors Bureau, so I ended up taking on that role,” said Supinksi.
“I was hired by the Economic Development Office to run the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and also to do small business development, working with entrepreneurs.”
While serving as executive director of the Newaygo County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Supinski oversaw the redesign and rebranding of the Newaygo County travel guide and website to highlight the area’s natural resources. She also worked as an economic development specialist with the Newaygo County Economic Development Office and became involved with the original Emerge organization, which started in Muskegon.
“There was a group of organizations providing services to entrepreneurs that were starting to form a regional group, and we were a part of that through Newaygo County. At the same time, Grand Rapids was starting to do something similar, so the Grand Rapids group approached the Muskegon group,” said Supinski. “When those conversations started happening, it didn’t make sense to have two groups doing the same thing, especially when everyone was really talking about regionalism.”
The two organizations merged into one regional effort to provide services to entrepreneurs in a 13-county area: Mason, Lake, Osceola, Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Montcalm, Ionia, Kent, Barry, Allegan, Ottawa and Muskegon.
Supinski was hired as the director of the website of Emerge West Michigan, and while her role focuses on connecting all of the communities and identifying resource partners, it continues to evolve as new pieces fall into place.
“This organization is a startup itself, and it is really fun. Right now I am finding things I like and saying, ‘I’ll do that.’ I think the next year or so will be really important for this organization to get our arms around how we are structured,” said Supinski. “Even though there are goals, objectives and measures that have to happen, it is really great to be able to have a lot of input on how that is all happening.”
Since the successful launch of its website, Emerge West Michigan has added an accelerator program, is incorporating the GR Current incubator program, has taken over operational management of the 5x5 Night, and is looking to add a mentorship program.
“It is really rewarding to see so many different types of organizations that are willing to work together to create an environment where people want to stay and open a business, and where they feel encouraged to be creative. We really want people to feel like there is support for that.”