Even for someone who is highly extroverted or a social butterfly, networking events can be uncomfortable. From your mind going into overdrive on whether something you want to say is too informal to feeling overwhelmed approaching strangers, it can be socially exhausting.
A group of young Black professionals across fields have joined forces to carve a space for people to create connections but also genuinely enjoy themselves while doing so.
In July 2021, Industry Link, a non-traditional networking platform, held its inaugural event in New York City. The happy hour mixer was sparked after founder Joseph Milord noticed a visible lack of activations after the COVID-19 pandemic. He felt a pressing need to help fill the void with a series of events where Black people, especially in tech and media, were given a professional space to connect. So Milord, who is manager of senior publisher partnerships at LinkedIn, picked up his phone and started bringing friends together to build out his vision.
Industry Link is composed of Milord and co-founders Yrbenka Arthus, creator manager, LinkedIn; Greg Butler, sales leader, Asana; and Oluwatomisin Adesokan, senior analyst, loyalty and engagement marketing, American Express. The platform has been entirely self-funded while ensuring that the events are free for attendees, and though bootstrapping has been quite the challenge, by limiting how the team executes events, sticking to the mission has been greatly rewarding to see in real time, Milord says.
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“This would be actually easier if we were passing on the cost to people who are attending, but it probably wouldn’t be as organic,” Milord told AFROTECH. We’d probably create a hurdle for people who’ve given us a chance in the first place. So it’s been a good trade-off for sure.”
In the very beginning, Industry Link pulled in 20 attendees. Now, the company has quickly grown to have hundreds of people at its events. Along with the mixers being free of charge, the team credits the positive energy and actual connection that’s present at the events for why the concept has been a success.
“What we see that’s different from other networking events is that we provide a good vibe,” Adesokan said. “People actually come to network. You see other networking events where people don’t really get the opportunity to network. People do get the opportunity to network at ours.”
She continued, “And we have a lot of testimonials on that. I’ve gotten multiple LinkedIn messages like, ‘Hey, thank you so much for this. I got to meet someone who works at XYZ company.’ And I think the repetition of people just having multiple good things to say about us just brings in other people.”
For people who are looking to have a similar experience in the near future, making the most out of an Industry Link event includes leaning into building community, showing up as your authentic self, being unafraid to embarrass yourself, and being prepared to have an amazing time, according to the team.
“I really think it is about knowing that everyone is here for the same thing,” Arthus shared. “You don’t have to have the fear of networking here. Come with people that you know, and then leave each other and really make it a goal to connect with people that you don’t know, but then, also make connections where you can too. A lot of the programming leans into making connections among each other. …It’s really geared towards real community building and relationship building.”
Milord chimed in, “Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself because once you get past the initial fear of just walking up to people, it’s not that big of a task to actually do it. On the other side of getting rid of that embarrassment is a whole bunch of opportunity. Opportunity to meet people that can show you where to get a new apartment when you want to move to a new neighborhood. That can give you a referral when you’re looking for a new job, new people to hang out with if you’re new at Google or Facebook or one of these larger tech companies. It can give you access to a whole bunch of different opportunities that we’re looking for just in life, not only in our career.”
While the good vibes are always at the front view at Industry Link’s events, at the core of the company is supporting Black tech, media, and creative professionals in their career journeys.
“Our intentionality from the start was to make this an event that was never costly to our attendees,” Butler explained. “We’re not looking necessarily to profit based off what we’re focused on, in terms of providing an event for people to have the core networking process happen. Our next step forward is more so to work with organizations and work with companies that are interested in what we are doing.”
He added, “We want people to support our mission of making sure that we continue to create a free, social, relaxed networking environment for folks that are looking for something that’s non-traditional based off what is traditional in the industry.”
In its near future expansion, Industry Link aims to secure partnerships, host more events outside of New York City, and create more intimate community building.
On Nov. 2, Industry Link is set to host its second-anniversary activation during AFROTECH Conference in Austin, TX.