“If you asked me back in 2009 if the Port City Young Professionals group would ever become what it is today, I would tell you you’re crazy,” says PCYP founder Jenna Curry. Now in its seventh year, the group’s monthly meetups have led to countless members making meaningful connections for jobs, business deals and even marriages that would not have happened otherwise. “It has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of,” she continues. “Has all the time, energy, money, and effort been worth it? A hundred times yes.”
encore sat down with Curry to talk more about PCYP’s growth and new mobile app as she prepares for the next PCYP Networking Social (sponsored by The Mailbox Store and featuring Coastal Duck Derby) at Jungle Rapids on May 17.
encore (e): For readers who aren’t familiar with PCYP, can you briefly explain its purpose and why you started it?
Jenna Curry (JC): Most large cities have a network that caters to the young professional community with the goal of growing future leaders while supporting local businesses and promoting community involvement and volunteerism. In 2009 I was 22, working in my field, and there was no community like this to plug into, to make personal and professional friendships and connections. My public relations, design and event-planning background, as well as the support of my employer at the time, inspired me to start the Port City Young Professionals to meet that need.
Since inception we have partnered with dozens of local businesses, media outlets, nonprofits, and community organizations. We’ve heard from influential guest speakers and been invited to private tours and shows. We’ve raised thousands of dollars for local charities, done Heart Walks, provided volunteers, and brought hundreds of new customers to area businesses.
e: After running this groups for seven years, what have been lessons learned so far?
JC: The most important thing I’ve learned is consistency: picking a schedule and sticking to it. In the beginning years, sometimes we would have only 12 people show up, and I questioned whether or not this was something I should continue investing time into. Over time, people began to trust events would happen regularly, and they began to share the events with friends and coworkers. We now average 150 people per event.
The other lesson was to commit to always providing more value than we ever asked for in return. Keeping events free, informative, and open to all ages and professionals has helped us grow over time. We also provide free food and a business card raffle at events.
JC: For years we’ve had individuals and businesses wanting to participate and market to the group, but we didn’t want to open that door without a fair and valuable delivery method. In 2015 we invested in the development of a mobile app that allows members, businesses and organizations to easily connect with each other. The mobile app launched on March 30, 2016 at an event at Tek Mountain, and we’ve had an unbelievable response so far. Advertisers and organizations can list upcoming events, special offers and discounts, and job openings through their customized listings, which serve as “mini websites.” Listings can include images, video, social media sites, contact information, rich text, and more. Beginning in 2016, businesses are invited to sponsor events and receive recognition prior to, during and after the event.
e: What’s been your most memoriable PCYP event and why?
JC: Our five-year anniversary party in 2014 was one of my favorites because it embodied so many of the things the group stands for. It was hosted by Homewood Suites and it was the first event we invited sponsors to be a part of. We had vendors with booths, a putt-putt contest and corn hole. The weather was perfect and we were able to raise $1,000 for the Wilmington Firefighter’s Memorial, which allowed us to sponsor a brick with our logo in the memorial. The event was a huge success that combined supporting local business, community involvement and networking.
e: What are some plans for PCYP in 2016?
JC: In 2016 PCYP will see more value within the mobile app, such as incorporating the MLS for searching real estate, the ability to listen to local radio stations, notifications for “in person” event contests, as well as some “members only” events available to members who sign up for an annual membership.
In June we are kicking off our ambassador program. This will be a leadership group among PCYP of 10 outstanding people in different industries to help connect with, educate, and introduce new members and guests to all PCYP has to offer. Ambassadors will help at registration, contribute to the PCYP blog, and serve as liaison to members looking to make specific connections. The implementation of an ambassador program has been a long-time vision for the group; it will be another way to foster meaningful connections and relationships among our membership.
e: Who are some nonprofits you’re partnering with for upcoming events?
JC: On May 17th we are partnering with the Coastal Duck Derby for a networking social at Jungle Rapids. The Coastal Duck Derby will take place May 20th and raises funds for Open House Youth Shelter of Coastal Horizons Center through “duck sponsorships” for $5 each. The ducks then race down the waterslide at the waterpark.
Every month we highlight a different nonprofit at our events and allow them to speak directly to the group about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities and board openings.
e: For folks interested in getting involved with PCYP, any words of wisdom or advice when they come to a networking event?
JC: I make it a point to let new attendees know that nearly half of the people at every event are brand new. That means there is no reason to be intimidated since most of the people there are in the same boat. And we’re all there to meet people, so don’t hesitate to introduce yourself.
When you come to a PCYP event, don’t come with the goal of passing out as many business cards as possible. Instead, use the time to listen, provide value to others and build relationships. That is where long-term business connections, friendships and relationships begin.
Most importantly, have fun. If you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong. Relax and enjoy getting to know your peers, eat free food, learn about volunteer opportunities, and maybe even win one of our awesome raffle prizes.