Young professionals in the Greater Hartford area looking to network, become better engaged in community life and expand their professional and social opportunities should consider becoming involved with Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs (HYPE).
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price sat down with HYPE Executive Director Kim Bishop and HYPE Program Director Jackie Valliere to talk about the importance of attracting and retaining talent in the Hartford Region.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How did HYPE form and how has it evolved?
KIM BISHOP: In 2006, the local business community in the city of Hartford realized they needed to do more to recruit and retain young talent. They teamed up with the MetroHartford Alliance and HYPE was born.
At first it was just a small networking group, but it grew very rapidly. HYPE currently has over 4,000 members, we do more than 70 events a year, and we have five volunteer committees to allow our members to be more engaged.
NP: What is HYPE’s mission, what types of professionals become members, and what can members gain from involvement?
JACKIE VALLIERE: We want to attract and retain young professionals by positioning the Hartford Region as an attractive area for them to live work and play. HYPE provides opportunities for young professionals to engage with and become socially involved in the community, meet other like-minded people, give back to the community, be civically involved, and experience personal and professional growth.
KB: HYPE is really about connecting people. It’s about networking. It’s being able to participate in programs and creating opportunities to help you grow.
It’s also about providing a platform to network and kind of expose everyone to your brand—and your brand as a young professional could be in insurance, or it could be as an entrepreneur in a startup company.
There is no typical HYPE member; they come from all different walks of life and backgrounds. A bulk of our members are company-sponsored by their employers who are investors with the MetroHartford Alliance at a certain level. We have a lot of individual members as well spanning a variety of industries.
NP: With regard to “young professionals” does HYPE have an age range?
KB: That’s one thing that makes HYPE a little different from other young professional groups. We don’t have any hard and fast rules with regard to ages. Many company-sponsored members are students—a lot of the local colleges and universities get free HYPE memberships. So we have members as young as 19 and as young as you feel. We would never turn anyone away.
And for someone who feels like they may not want to interact with a large group of people who are a little younger than them, I still encourage them to sign up because it’s really beneficial if you’re managing other people or you have a mentor or mentee. It’s also great to encourage your staff and your colleagues—even your kids—to come to our events to stay connected.
JV: And all HYPE members get access to certain MetroHartford Alliance events at investor level pricing. So there are different levels of networking. If you’re interested in networking at a higher level, you can go to MetroHartford Alliance Rising Star Breakfast and network with the movers and shakers as opposed to going to a HYPE happy hour.
IDH: You each oversee different HYPE committees. Can you tell us a little about them?
JV: I oversee our Ambassadors committee and our Social Events Committee. The Social Events committee hosts a monthly networking happy hour called Get HYPEd. We try and showcase all there is to do in Hartford from arts and culture to sports and recreation.
The Ambassador Committee created our HYPEr Link Program, which is an initiative that connects strategic partners and leadership investors with the MetroHartford Alliance with a HYPE Ambassador. The goal is to engage members within those investor companies by linking them up with one of our Ambassador. We identify a point person within the investor organization and connect them with a HYPE Ambassador. It’s kind of spreading the word about HYPE from the inside out in those companies.
KB: And I oversee our Civic Engagement, Community Involvement, and Personal and Professional Development committees. Our Civic Engagement Committee does a lot of panel discussions. They’re really focused on awareness and why it’s so important for young professionals to engage in what’s happening in their city, region, state, and country.
The Community Involvement committee focuses on giving back to the community in a variety of ways, from hands on volunteer experiences to community collections to blogging. This committee is responsible for our two signature fundraising events—Tee It Up for Charity at the Travelers Championship, which is Thursday, June 22, and Tons of Toys, a drive we do every December. They are both great ways to get involved with philanthropy and to have a fun time with HYPE.
The Personal and Professional Development Committee does a little bit of everything focusing on topics that young professionals want to learn more about. They host workshops, and events to help young professionals become more well-rounded both personally and professionally.
NP: Let’s talk about the importance of fostering entrepreneurship in the Greater Hartford area.
KB: Many incredible organizations in Greater Hartford have developed over the past few years, such as reSET. They focus entirely on entrepreneurs and we work to support and promote them. They do such an amazing job. We love highlighting them and we love supporting their entrepreneurs.
JV: We partner with reSET on a blog series called Entrepreneurs Heart Greater Hartford. We alternate different months, every other month HYPE will find an entrepreneur, write about them, and promote what their business is and what they’re doing.
KB: I think the other cool thing is that all of the entrepreneurs who we highlight in the Entrepreneurs Heart Greater Hartford blog series are HYPE members. And we end up utilizing these HYPE members, whether it’s a photographer or a DJ for one of our events.
NP: What’s next for HYPE?
KB: One of the priorities of our strategic plan is to work more closely with our local colleges and universities. We’re starting that this year. And we’re really trying to meet them where they’re at.
We’re targeting college juniors and seniors, because they’re preparing to leave school and go into the workforce. With our mission to recruit and retain young talent, we realize that a lot of the young talent is still at school.
So we’re working with local colleges and universities that have free HYPE membership and saying we’d love to do something with your students. How can we help you? What can HYPE do? How can we connect your students with our investors?
We’re hoping to create those connections so that when these students graduate they already know somebody in an organization they’re looking to go into, or they know somebody in the field they are interested in. They also know more about the city and more about the Greater Hartford region and they’re more apt to stay here.
It’s been interesting so far. We’ve done a couple of networking-based events and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. So it’s a big push for us and we’re hoping to see more come from that in the upcoming years.
NP: What do you enjoy the most about the work you do?
JV: I enjoy connecting with people—people I never would’ve met outside of my job. I enjoy that it’s something new and different all the time. We’re always visiting new spaces. It’s nice to be introduced to a variety of things. Before my job here at HYPE I had no idea of all Hartford had to offer.
KB: I worked in youth development in the nonprofit sector for eight years before I came to HYPE. I’ve been in love with the city of Hartford for a long time now. When I joined HYPE, I was so excited to be able to give back in a different way. HYPE is involved in so much and we are working to showcase what a great region this is to so many young professionals.
What I enjoy most is being passionate about Hartford, sharing that passion, inspiring that passion in others, and then seeing them go out and inspire other people to be passionate about it too.
I say it all the time, but these young professionals are going to be the future leaders. They are going to be the next people running this. And the more they’re exposed to all we have to offer, the more excited they are to be involved.