MILLENNIALS MAKING MOVES
Young professionals groups provide venues for growth
Millennials are swapping business cards and networking more than ever. They have become much more than the go-to experts when their parents and grandparents get stuck with their iPhones and iPads. Millennials— also known as Generation Y or Generation Net, born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—are now reaching the age when they’re figuring out their careers and building successful futures. They have also realized that the road to success isn’t only about what you know, but rather who you know and, more importantly, who knows you.
Florida has always been the spot for the American Dream retirement plan, but Millennials are increasingly seeing the state as a place to open businesses and move into leadership positions. This young generation seeks out office gatherings and the late-night bar scene to congregate with like-minded individuals, and more recently many have formed networking groups where they can get together and share ideas on a more formal basis, with the goal of growing both personally and professionally. In Lee County, the Young Professionals of Fort Myers – Estero – Cape Coral and the Young Professionals Association of Sanibel & Captiva offer various networking opportunities monthly.
Laura Richardson, founder of the Sanibel and Captiva group, says young professionals are realizing they cannot wait for opportunities to come their way; they need to be actively engaged in their community, learn to network, build upon their connections and focus on their own professional development. “As young professionals are finishing school and joining the workforce, we are looking for organizations to become affiliated with, and if they do not exist or current organizations are not meeting our needs, we have realized we can build our own,” she says.
Richardson, 30, started the young professionals group on the islands in June 2015, which makes it the newest such group in Lee County. She got the inspiration after starting a job on Sanibel in January and noticing she wasn’t the only Millennial working on the islands. As she met people of her age in the first few months, she came to realize that the islands attract not only visitors and older generations, but also a large group of young professionals who live and work there. She played with the idea of starting the group and got a lot of support from other young professionals.
Since the first networking event in June, Richardson has already seen growth in participation month after month. “I’m impressed with the attendance,” she says. “I think it’s the connections people make that brings them back the next time.” Each month
As young professionals are finishing school and joining the workforce, we are looking for organizations to become affiliated with, and if they do not exist or current organizations are not meeting our needs, we have realized we can build our own.”
the group meets at a restaurant on the islands; however, down the road Richardson plans to participate in a variety of events, including fundraisers and community gatherings.
The Young Professionals Association is not the only such group on the islands. Kasey Albright, born and raised on Sanibel and now a real estate agent at John Naumann & Associates, started the Young Professionals Network for the Sanibel & Captiva Association of Realtors in 2014. She thought that the island needed an organization that promoted her generation. “My mom has always had great memories during her 20s and 30s on Sanibel getting together with other professionals her age, and I wanted those same experiences,” she says.
The first young professionals networking group in Southwest Florida was Young Professionals of Fort Myers – Estero – Cape Coral, founded in 2002 by Dan Sinclair. The idea for the group came to Sinclair after a social gathering. “I ran into a couple of friends, recent graduates, at a local chamber function, who just moved back to the area,” he says. “Everyone except us was in their 60s, so they wanted to find a way to network in a business environment with people their own age.”
As a result, the group was born, and since then it has established a reputation in Lee County, with attendance at most of its events reaching in excess of 100 participants. Sinclair says there has long been a need for such groups, but the older generations didn’t always recognize it.
Amber Maines and Paige Wood, both 25, attended their first Young Professionals event, Business and Social After Five, in September. They work as trainers at Sit Means Sit of South Florida, a dog-training franchise in Estero. “We are new to the area,” Wood explains, “so this event sounded like a great opportunity to network with people our own age and let them know about our business.” Mission accomplished.
Melissa Shannon checks in participants at the Business and Social After Five event of the Young Professionals Association of Fort Myers – Estero – Cape Coral.
The After 5:30 networking events of the Young Professionals Association of Sanibel & Captiva are well attended.
(Top left) Trent Peake, Sarah Lathrop, Darrin Grotrian, Rebecca Grotrian and Robin Roberts network at the Young Professionals Association of Sanibel & Captiva. Attendees at an event of the Fort Myers – Estero – Cape Coral group include (top right) Tyler Leleux, Jonathan Martin and Dan Sinclair, the group’s founder; (bottom right) Ricardo Rodriguez and Jonathan Favorite; and (bottom left) Shiden Kafei and Stephanie Tinoco.