Ann Arbor Tech Networking with Brooke Boyle of Engage
By Laura Cowan
Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.
Of all the people you should meet if you are interested in meeting new people in Ann Arbor, particularly in tech, the one you will hear the most about is Brooke Boyle. Boyle is the founder and CEO of professional networking organization Engage, which helps connect not just people in tech but professionals across several industries in town who are looking to plug into community in the Ann Arbor area.
Boyle does this not by introducing people who have the same interests or job title, but those who are very different from one another or might not otherwise engage. She says that people who come to her are often new to Ann Arbor wanting to connect or are introverted and like the setup where they are guaranteed to meet people they otherwise wouldn't naturally connect with, through Engage community-building events.
"When I look at our community, there are two really solid industries that make our group what it is, and that's tech and the arts," Brooke says. "Lots of people want to live here or raise a family here because it's a highly educated community that values the arts." Brooke likes to bring people together across these and other industries locally to help foster those connections that do well in Ann Arbor -- collaborations and relationships between people who are highly intelligent and creative, something the town is already known for. But in Ann Arbor, people increasingly roll with their own communities or interest-based groups, and it can be difficult for a newcomer to feel like they have permission to join in, despite the town's reputation for relative friendliness.
Engage community building in action at Avalon Cafe & Kitchen. Courtesy photo.
"When we're in a new room we're all looking around feeling alien, wondering do I belong here? Will my voice matter, will my experience matter?" Brooke says. Brooke hosts small groups that help give people permission to reach out and feel at home. She doesn't call it networking. These are intentionally smaller gatherings that help foster community. Brooke calls it "the fastest-growing and most trusted community of interesting people in Ann Arbor," and we believe her. She's a natural connector, and Brooke says that when she realized she had an unusual experience in connecting quickly and deeply with new friends when she moved to Ann Arbor, she decided to help others make the same connections. "Not everyone has the same kind of people I did who will introduce you to their world," she says. "How do we help people connect?" Especially when it is a common experience that Ann Arbor is a little opaque to new residents, or even established townies. There is a constant stream of new residents, from spouses who come along with new hires to local companies to university students to people who move to Ann Arbor to raise a family, since it is now consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the United States.
Photo of Brooke Boyle, c. Katie Alexis Photography.
The Engage Connector Program is even more personal. The program matches people who are new to Ann Arbor directly with an established business or community leader they have some professional or community-based interest in common with. Brooke offers several options for people who would like to make these deeper connections in Ann Arbor, and then asks the local Connectors, the name she gives the established residents, to refer the Connectees to several other friends or acquaintances locally to further their connections in town. "What amazes me is the diversity of the group, the diversity of experience and age," Brooke says. "What Engage is attracting is individuals who think in a particular way, and are like-minded in that they are driven to help others and offer their skillset and learn from other people.
"We might see an influx of a particular industry. I think of it like a rapidly growing speakeasy," Brooke laughs. "We don't do any marketing, really, so you have to know somebody to be able to know of it. The benefit for Engage is that we're getting pre-vetted people that other people trust." It must be working. The Engage program is quickly outgrowing its meeting spaces and continues to receive a lot of word of mouth support, especially in tech. You can connect with Brooke to ask more questions by email or visit engageaffect.com for more info on the programs available. She is a co-organizer of the popular tech meetup A2NewTech, and her groups often meet in nearby Ypsilanti, which creates even more community crossover with the hotbed of indie creativity next door.