After a decade of traveling around the country, Ryan Keating returned to his hometown of West Hartford, CT to work at his family-owned insurance company, Keating Insurance Agency.
While away, Ryan launched and worked at startups and further ignited his entrepreneurial drive. These experiences encouraged him to work with the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce on an initiative to create a young professionals group.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: Why do you feel it’s important to have a local professionals group?
RYAN KEATING: A lot of Chambers of Commerce have started their own young professional groups throughout Connecticut. For example, the MetroHartford Alliance has Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE), the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce has PULSE for New Haven-area young professionals, and the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce has Professional Young Visionaries of Tomorrow (PYVOT).
I saw there wasn’t a young professionals group in West Hartford—which, as a town, is really its own brand. I wanted to create an organization that will focus on the great restaurants and other amenities in West Hartford and give back to the community. So I approached the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce about creating one. They had had the idea for a few years, but no one had really taken the lead.
I had successfully helped create a young professional group in Dallas, TX and built it up to 200 members in less than three years. So I’ve already gone through the process from A to Z.
In August 2016, I offered to put together a plan and work with the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce to start up the group, which we decided to call Future Leaders of West Hartford (FLOW). Since then, we’ve had a few planning and brainstorming meetings with people from the community.
IDH: What are the goals for FLOW? What will young professionals in West Hartford gain from membership?
RK: The goal is to create a program for West Hartford young professionals to explore local businesses and meet likeminded individuals.
Our mission is: To attract and retain future leaders to invest in the West Hartford community through social events, professional development, and philanthropy.
This first year we’re going to keep it as low-key as possible and work on building the brand, building interest, and building membership. We also want to develop a committee of people who want to get involved a little bit more, which would reduce the workload for Chamber of Commerce employees.
Perhaps the Chamber will hire someone to just run the young professionals group down the road? Right now we’re working on developing committees to keep the group strong and empowering younger people to sit on a board and be involved in a self-sufficient, non-profit organization.
IDH: What types of events will FLOW members have access to?
RK: We’d like to have four or five social events a year. We had our first happy hour event February 9 at Noble & Co., a new speakeasy that opened in West Hartford in the fall of 2016.
We’re looking at hosting a grand opening event at the new hotel that’s opening in Blue Back Square this spring. I also want to try to do some “Lunch and Learn” type of events and bring in a panel to discuss professional development or have members talk about their field and community issues.
I’d also like to build the community by hosting events like Habitat for Humanity or Relay for Life and bringing together other young professional organizations for some type of annual, co-branded young professional event.
IDH: How are people getting becoming involved with FLOW?
RK: About 70 people have expressed interest. The West Hartford Chamber of Commerce has an email list with about 1,000 names, so they sent out an email to let people know we’re starting up a young professionals group. People have responded back to them and let them know they are interested.
I also used the Neighbors and Friends in West Hartford Facebook group to float some ideas and generate interest. And we talked about doing something with the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center.
We haven’t really marketed the young professionals group too much yet because we’re focused on finding people interested in helping with the development phase. We’ve had more than 20 people meet and brainstorm. There’s a lot of opportunity for community members—and we’re really working to empower others in the community to come to the table with ideas.
RK: It started when I was in third grade. My parents had me delivering newspapers to pay for the new bicycle I wanted. I later turned that drive into a neighborhood lawn mowing operation.
IDH: There’s also been an entrepreneurial thread throughout your family.
RK: Right. My grandfather founded Keating Insurance Agency in 1969. My dad took it over in 1999. And then I moved home recently to start the third generation.
It’s a great asset to have a family business like this. I’m very fortunate to have grown up with a hard-working father and grandfather. I’ve seen how hard work has provided for a family. There are also the struggles.
IDH: Can you tell us about some of those struggles?
RK: It’s not easy. Most people don’t understand the work that goes into being an entrepreneur. You can’t go out all the time, you live a different schedule. It’s not a typical 9:00 to 5:00. You can’t just check in and check out all the time.
IDH: So why do it?
RK: There are a lot of rewards that you get from knowing you created something. Especially if you’re providing jobs. I think that’s a big drive for a lot of people—helping others.
Keating Insurance Agency has been able to employ dozens of people over the almost 50 years we’ve been in business.
IDH: A lot of entrepreneurs are so passionate about making a difference. That’s their driving force.
RK: Right. I do feel passionate about helping others. With insurance you deal with people’s worst-case situations—car accidents, deaths—they are not easy conversations. That’s a big thing that separates us from the larger insurance companies, too. We have sympathy and compassion.
IDH: Do you feel like those skills have helped you as far as going out and launching this young professionals group?
RK: Absolutely. I think being a leader and being an entrepreneur go hand-in-hand. People have ideas and talk about them, but sometimes it just takes someone to say: Let’s do it!
That’s the only way to see what happens. If you fail you fail, that’s a learning process. But, it’s important to put one foot in front of the other. Once you start, you have momentum. And with momentum a lot of things can happen.
Follow Future Leaders of West Hartford (FLOW) on Facebook.
- Interested in learning more about young professionals groups throughout Connecticut? Read our interview with Young Entrepreneurs Leading Our World (YELOW) Co-Founder Scott Drozd.