By GREGORY ZELLER //
Things are formalizing a bit at i-hamptons, which is introducing a new membership-management platform – and an annual membership fee.
The Southampton-based “community and resource guide for local entrepreneurs” – essentially, a networking group to help Hamptons entrepreneurs launch their startups – is “switching on” its new Meet-Up platform, which will better “manage membership, events and discussion boards,” according to organization founder Ashley John Heather.
“It’s a bit more sophisticated and business-friendly,” Heather told Innovate LI. “It’s also private, so the discussions and conversations that go onto it remain private to the group, which is a benefit.
“Part of the growing-up process is finding the right technology to benefit our members,” he added.
The Meet-Up platform also offers payment protocols for collecting those $95-per-year membership dues, which are new but were “always part of the plan,” according to Heather, who spun i-hamptons out of White Space Group, his Manhattan-based digital-creative agency.
The founder has so far paid for the networking organization’s meetings and events himself, including a July launch party at a private home and a September fundraiser at the Southampton Social Club for The Spur, an 8,000-square-foot “private co-working and entrepreneur’s club” Heather plans to open in Southampton next summer.
But paying for these “high-quality, high-experience” events out of pocket is “no kind of business plan,” the entrepreneur said, noting “the choice basically was to charge people to come to the events or to have a membership fee, and I didn’t want to charge for the events.”
“It’s more cost-effective this way,” Heather said. “And it allows us to really put our arms around the membership in a more holistic way, as opposed to ‘anybody can come, just pay at the door.’”
i-hamptons has already rung up 400-plus members through its Facebook page, which according to Heather is an inefficient platform for many of the members-only benefits he envisions for his burgeoning network, including group bulletin boards and other private communications.
All of those existing members, and new ones, can continue to remain tangentially connected through the still-active, still-growing Facebook forum, or they can shell out for the official membership, which provides access to quarterly keynote events and other benefits.
Membership perks include one free guest at each event (it’s $25 per guest after that) and discounts at a host of participating Hamptons-based businesses, including the Southampton Social Club, the Union Cantina in Southampton and Golden Pear Café locations in Southampton, Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Bridgehampton.
Members also score cut rates on products produced by other members, including Superieur electrolyte products created by Southampton entrepreneur Seth Bovio.
With the perks and the exclusive high-brow networking opportunities, the annual $95 fee easily pays for itself, according to Heather, who said the dues “really allow us to cover the high-experience events, which are very premium in nature.”
“It also ensures that people are serious about wanting to be part of this group and do something,” he added. “You attract a completely different person when something is free than when people have to pay for something.”
The first gathering limited to dues-paying members is slated for Oct. 30. It includes a hands-on tour of the “innovation lab” – stocked with robotics and other cool tech – at the Ross School, a private “pre-nursery”-to-grade 12 school in East Hampton.
And i-hamptons is still knee-deep in planning its big November networking event, “Riptide: Hamptons Sink or Swim,” a “Shark Tank”-like pitch-a-thon that will dole out $100,000 in seed funds to early-stage entrepreneurs.
“Riptide” will also serve to promote The Spur, which will offer flexible co-working spaces and a host of amenities – including a 70-seat theater and a health-and-wellness studio – when it opens in 2018.
More info on “Riptide,” including an official date, venue and sponsors list, will be available next week, according to Heather.