Networking entrepreneur takes ‘meet and greet’ to next level

Gelie Akhenblit has built the second largest networking organization in the Phoenix area behind Arizona State University’s Alumni Association. Not bad considering her group was started a little over a decade ago while the alumni association has been around since 1895.  

The Phoenix entrepreneur’s group numbers also far surpass other long-established networking groups in the Valley.

Akhenblit is the innovator behind her successful networking business, Networking Phoenix, that has almost 42,000 professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners in the group. Her annual signature event is one of the biggest in the Valley. Her comprehensive website is an incredibly valuable resource for users.  

Her secret? Instinct and timing, said Akhenblit, who studied marketing and communications at Arizona State University. While bouncing through jobs after graduation, a friend invited her to a networking event. She was enchanted with the concept.

I remember going to my first networking event, walking into this room and talking to all these strangers. I had such an intense chemical reaction in my brain. My dopamines were just pumping,” Akhenblit said. “I kept going to events. I wanted to know everything about everyone I met. It was like a treasure hunt.”

She became a free referral service for friends and acquaintances and it quickly evolved into a profitable business venture.

Much of her success had to do with timing, she said. She founded Networking Phoenix in 2008. The recession had wiped out so many jobs, she was an instant hit with unemployed professionals. When she hosted her first launch party, more than 600 people showed up.

“It was a logistical nightmare. People didn’t know where to park. We ran out of parking,” she said.

At the time, it was a different landscape for networking with little coordination and limited use of blogs and social media venues like Facebook. Akhenblit saw a need to take networking to the next level. Her software engineer former husband built her a networking platform that was ahead of its time, she said.

Today, the site lists hundreds of networking events each month in the Valley. Searchers can comb through 1,447 other networking organizations and about as many blogs.

Akhenblit also hosts regular events like virtual question and answer “coffee breaks,” boot camps, and women’s events with topics like networking etiquette, relationships marketing and how to be the most memorable person in the room. There are many free benefits to users who can also purchase a Networking Passport that allows them to attend 30 to 40 events a month for free.

Akhenblit has two essential tips for anyone interested in getting out there: arrive early and stay late and be authentic.

Arriving early is the best way to meet organizers of the event who can make introductions to the right people, she said. Late-stayers benefit because the most motivated attendees are the ones who don’t want to leave. That’s the optimum time to network.

Being genuine is also important, she said. A roomful of strangers won’t care about a business unless they care about the individual they are speaking with. When individuals are authentic, the right people will gravitate their way.

Currently, there are almost 1,500 networking groups across the Phoenix region. Here are some of the largest:

  1. Arizona State University Alumni Association, Tempe, 235,031 members
  2. Networking Phoenix, Scottsdale, 41,974
  3. Phoenix College Alumni Association, Phoenix,  20,166
  4. SouthEast Valley Regional Association of Realtors, Mesa, 12,500
  5. Career Connectors, Gilbert, 10,328
  6. Toastmasters International, Phoenix, 4,800
  7. Executives Network, Phoenix Chapter, 4,354
  8. Project Management Institute – Phoenix Chapter, Scottsdale, 2,500
  9. Arizona Real Estate Investors Association, Phoenix, 2,040
  10. BNI Arizona, Scottsdale, 1.500

(Source: Chamber Business News, Phoenix Business Journal)

Victoria Harker

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