OPEN DIALOGUE: Peter Manickas, president of Metal Tile Technology, with employee Angalissa Reyes. Manickas sees value in sharing successes and failures with fellow businesses owners in the Entrepreneurial Exchange.
Owners of 14 Rhode Island and Massachusetts businesses with expertise running the gamut from technology to construction, metal-tile manufacturing and fishing tackle have joined together in a group they call the Entrepreneurial Exchange.
The main requirements of membership are that each person own a $1 million to $15 million company, they commit to confidentiality and they adhere to attendance requirements of the three-to-five-hour meeting once a month, not missing more than three meetings a year. Each person has to be invited by a member.
“It’s not networking, although networking happens. It’s not coaching,” said Peter Manickas, owner of a third-generation jewelry and metal-tile manufacturing company, Metal Tile Technology in Attleboro. “This is more intimate. That’s why the confidentiality requirement is so important. We share our successes and failures and challenges.
“We share the blood, sweat and tears of running a business and we discuss things we wouldn’t talk about at a Rotary Club or other business event,” said Manickas, one of three founding members of the 18-month-old group.
“We discuss things we don’t want to bother our spouses, our families or our friends with, and they might not understand them as well as the people in the group,” said Manickas.
The discussions might include information the company owners don’t want competitors in their industry to know about, so the cross-pollination of experience and talent brings a broad perspective.
“I’ve been considering new developments for my distribution system and I’ve gotten some really good ideas from the group,” said Manickas.
There is a foundation to the group – it’s loosely based on the Master Mind principles of Napoleon Hill from his 1938 motivational and personal-development classic “Think and Grow Rich.”
“Napoleon Hill’s Master Mind may be defined as ‘coordination of knowledge and effort in a spirit of harmony, between two or more people, for the attainment of definite purpose’,” said Jon Daskam, owner of Warwick-based Cobalt Construction. The company offers construction management, project management and design/build services for commercial clients in several states. It was founded in 2000.
Hill’s book helped convince Daskam to try and form the group.
“I thought, why not put a number of business owners together and collaborate?” said Daskam. “We look at is as a board of directors.”
Daskam has long been involved in professional and community organizations. He’s on the board of directors of Rhode Island Hospital and works with tourism organizations, as many of his construction projects have been for the hospitality industry.
“I find that when you’re running your own business, you sometimes feel like you’re in the weeds. So when you’re looking at challenges or opportunities, it’s really helpful to have 10 or 15 guys not in your business every day to offer a fresh perspective,” said Daskam.
Currently the group is made up of 15 men, and while there are no women, that’s just how it’s worked out until now, said Daskam, who said the group may add a few more people and welcomes diversity.
Members of the group also include the owners of the IT strategy company Gurnet Consulting, Peregrine Property Management, V1 Vodka, landscape architects Birchwood Design Group, Excellent and Downeast Coffee, Marc Allen Fine Clothiers, Thor Marketing, Platinum Fire Protection, EBS Capstone Insurance, electrical services company DK Power, Insite Engineering and fishing-tackle maker Zing Products.
“The discussions are really candid and sometimes it’s amazing what comes from them,” said Daskam. “We’re really committed to helping each other. We really try to go narrow and deep. We really want to help improve the businesses.”
That help kicked Zing Products owner Christopher Lynch into motion on his Web presence.
Lynch has known Daskam since they were friends at Attleboro High School. They kept in touch, sometimes catching up over coffee as Lynch transitioned from 17 years in banking, most recently working with small- and medium-sized businesses for Citizens Bank, to buying the then-Westport-based fishing-tackle company, reinvigorating it and relocating to an industrial park in Wareham, Mass.
When Daskam suggested he come to the Entrepreneurial Exchange a year-and-a-half ago, Lynch first thought he didn’t have time to participate.
“My experience was radically different than anyone else in the group, leaving commercial banking and buying a fishing-tackle-manufacturing company,” said Lynch. “It’s turned out to be really helpful. When I presented my opportunities and weaknesses, the group said I really need to increase my Web presence.
“I’m a wholesaler and my customers get a catalog of the products. … Since I don’t sell directly to the general public, I wasn’t interested in working on our online presence,” Lynch said.
His view developed new depth, richness and long-term vision with feedback from the Entrepreneurial Exchange.
“We sell fishing tackle, but what we really sell is fun. It’s about time to be on the water with your kids and family,” said Lynch. “It’s about going out for the weekend and enjoying life. More Zing fishing tackle in the hands of more people makes life better.”
In the two months since he was offered the suggestions, he’s been working on Web, video and photography for Zing.
“The perspective from the group make me realize that when more people can see the products on line, they can increase the demand, so maybe people will ask where they can get the products and that will increase our wholesale market,” said Lynch.
After trying to get Bass Pro Shops as a customer for some time, Lynch finally sealed that deal since he’s been in the entrepreneurial group.
“That was a good thing to go back and report to the group,” said Lynch.
While moving business to the next level is the main mission of the group, there’s a broader, personal benefit.
“My dad was in manufacturing in Rhode Island and he really helped me transition to Zing five years ago,” said Lynch. “I feel like the group of business owners is also extended family. The more time we spend together, the more comfortable we are with each other.”
Day-to-day management of a business can make it seem difficult to get out to the rather long meetings, but it’s well worth it, said Lynch.
“This forces me once a month to get out into a positive, healthy environment with fellow business owners,” said Lynch. “And we have some laughs.”
While meeting as a mastermind group was the way to go in the 1930s when Napoleon Hill developed his principles and strategies, the Entrepreneurial Exchange is amplifying the power of the group with technology.
The group is using an online platform called Yammer, a social media tool like Facebook, but it’s by invitation only, so it’s a closed group.
“It’s called an enterprise-collaboration tool,” said Martin King, president of East Providence-based Gurnet Consulting, which does IT strategy and deployment, who helped launch the Entrepreneurial Exchange. “We post articles or surveys on Yammer and if someone has a question or a project, we share information.”
What would Napoleon Hill think of Yammer?
“Napoleon Hill would think it’s great,” said King. “We’re using it between our monthly meetings to amplify the power of the collective intelligence.” •