Human Resources, Nonprofits, and Small Business & Startups

Membership-based networking collaborative sees new life

After being inactive for the past couple of years, SENATE is reignited and looking to expand.

August 16, 2019
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A group of entrepreneurs is working to further establish a membership-based networking and collaboration group.

The focus of SENATE is to provide a way to connect entrepreneurs with one another so they can share ideas and offer support, said Brent Fisher, the group’s board president. 

Transitioning to the entrepreneurial lifestyle can be challenging, he said. “But if you have that support group of other like-minded people, that makes that transition life easier.”

Having this support exposes entrepreneurs to people with real-world experience who may help them in their ventures, he said.

SENATE officially was established in 2014 by Fisher. It was mostly inactive until the past couple of years when people who had previously been involved wanted to reignite the group, which is now an LLC.

At that time, Fisher created a board of people who were invested in seeing the group expand. Today, the board consists of:

  • President – Brent Fisher, Virgin Soil Real Estate

  • Vice President – Ashley Ward, Hire For Hope

  • Treasurer – Justin Blouin, Ascension Business Solutions

  • Chris Ake, Grand Apps

  • Megan Closser, Smitten Booth

  • Justin Menkveld, Menklab

  • Kendall Hines, Lawn Doctor

  • Nate Jean, Kyros Digital Agency

  • Kevin McLaughlin, business attorney

  • Cody Knott, videographer

  • Anthony Bird, Six Sents

SENATE historically has had a focus on emerging entrepreneurs, those who are trying to grow and disrupt existing industries, though anyone in that arena is welcome to join.

All the existing members are entrepreneurs with an existing business or people working on establishing their ideas.

The group is at a pivotal point where it’s ready to expand from an exclusive group of startup entrepreneurs to include others who are interested in getting involved in any way to help individuals at any stage of their entrepreneurial endeavor, said Ashley Ward, CEO of Hire for Hope, who joined as the group’s board vice president about a year ago.

The group has consisted mostly of bimonthly private networking events planned through a private Facebook group, which about 40-50 attend. 

“We get together, and the energy is just contagious,” Ward said. “It's just fun to get together and toss ideas and not have to reinvent the wheel.”

Now, leadership is working to ramp up membership and expand offerings. 

The group has remained largely under the radar until it recently hosted its first awards event called The Assembly, which honored several businesspeople and donated its proceeds to Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women. It plans to hold this event annually.

SENATE historically has been free to join, but leadership is working on a tiered membership system with various benefits. Becoming a member has been referral only. Fisher said they plan to implement an application process to join. 

Fisher operates the group, as well as his several other businesses, out of an office space downtown at 115 S. Division Ave. 

He said he is planning to use that space as part of a private lounge for the group’s exclusive members as a place where they can meet, work and collaborate, which he hopes to have established in the next few months. 

He’s planning to upgrade and include the adjacent space, formerly home to Propaganda Donuts, as part of the private lounge. This space includes a bar and a commercial kitchen that could be used as an incubator space for entrepreneurs. 

He said he’s looking for companies to sponsor the individual spaces in the future lounge. Comcast has committed to sponsoring the office side, and he is speaking with other companies interested in sponsoring other parts of the space. 

Sponsors will be promoted as companies supportive of small businesses and entrepreneurs, he said. 

They’re in the process now of creating a website, soon to launch. 

Much of the group’s operations still are being determined, but ultimately, Fisher sees it as a “business that gives back.”

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