For over two years, I worked for a thought leadership startup that helped entrepreneurs running multi-million dollar companies build their brands. Founders came to us for guidance on a variety of issues, but one of the most pressing concerns we saw consistently was network expansion — these business owners had trouble making the right connections.
As an entrepreneur, the strength and soundness of your network can make or break your business. A solid one can help you secure funding, connect with the perfect hire, bring in board members, get much-needed advice, and offer support when the weight of running a business gets overwhelming.
But without one, you’re prone to losing out on the investors and interest needed to sustain a company long-term — so it’s no mystery why the number of business owners looking to build a quality network is increasing.
In 2020, there were 33.7 million small businesses in the United States — making up roughly 99.9% of all American companies. Today, hundreds of networks, memberships, master classes, and exclusive clubs exist to help those businesses’ owners network more effectively.
With so many options at your disposal, the question becomes, “Which of these networking resources are worth my time and (potentially) money?”
Before committing to any community, it’s important to consider why you want to join a network. Are you reaching for a business goal? Seeking a solution to a problem? Looking to connect with founders in your industry? Trying to book a meeting with an investor?
If you set clear intentions, it’ll be that much easier to choose which entrepreneur networks are right for you as you scale and strengthen your business. The list I’ve compiled below will give insight into what kind of networks exist to help you and your company succeed.
1. HubSpot Network
Understanding how your company (and your competitors) are performing is crucial for running a profitable business. The HubSpot Network gives entrepreneurs a detailed report on any company and lets you compare multiple businesses to see how quickly they’re growing.
While it might not be not a traditional social network, it’s a great resource for quickly and thoroughly learning what you’re doing well and how you can improve.
2. Entrepreneurs’ Organization
The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a support network of over 14,000 members across 61 countries — chock full of the world’s top business leaders and experts.
If you’re looking for high-powered connections, collaborative learning experiences, an accelerator program for early-stage companies, or student entrepreneur opportunities, consider joining this network.
This nonprofit organization focuses on helping small businesses achieve their goals, grow, and thrive through education and mentorship. Providing resources to more than 11 million entrepreneurs since its founding in 1964, SCORE offers free business mentoring with experts in various industries.
Its extensive resource library — including webinars, courses, and guides — has information on everything from increasing diversity in the workplace to managing a remote team during a pandemic.
4. The National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE)
If you’re looking for legal help, funding, or a way to ensure your voice is heard as an entrepreneur, NASE is the network for you. This nonprofit provides support for entrepreneurs and micro-businesses through direct access to benefits that are usually only available to large corporations.
Their monthly newsletter shares tips on how to more effectively run your business — including advice about payroll services, grant opportunities, and marketing best practices — and gives updates on relevant issues coming out of Washington.
5. Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA)
If you’re a social entrepreneur working to make a change in the world, the Social Enterprise Alliance is worth a look. This organization has supported the social enterprise movement in the US since 1998 by acting as a voice for sustainable social impact. SEA holds a bi-annual Summit, runs a mentorship program, holds working groups, offers discounts on business services, and much more.
6. Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC)
Are you under 45 years old? A founder, co-founder, owner, or co-owner of a business? Does that company generate at least $1M in revenue or have $1M in funding? If you say yes to all, the YEC might just be the perfect entrepreneur network for you.
Touted as an exclusive community of passionate entrepreneurs, YEC supports its members through connections to peers in various industries, branding and thought leadership opportunities, coaching, events, and travel discounts.
If you’re a CEO, the YPO is an excellent resource for personal growth. With more than 30,000 members across 142 countries, this community allows entrepreneurs to connect on a local or global level.
The network lets you create cross-cultural relationships, find mentors and supportive peers, share your personal and professional interests, and learn how to become a better, stronger leader.
Are you looking to grow your company and collaborate with a group of peer advisors? Vistage offers executive coaching for small and midsize business owners who need a confidential space to vet ideas, identify blind spots, and troubleshoot issues.
You and 12 to 16 peers will meet once a month with a coach who can keep constructive conversations on track and help everyone move their business forward.
9. Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN)
The goal of GEN is to create a healthy global entrepreneurship ecosystem, which means connecting investors, founders, researchers, and policymakers. From supporting programs focused on innovative regulatory change to hosting startup competitions and founder huddles, it’s an incredible entrepreneur network for anyone around the world.
Social media’s latest craze is a fantastic place to network. This audio-based app connects entrepreneurs, executives, musicians, artists, and influencers at the top of their game — letting them meet in “rooms” to discuss specific topics.
You could find yourself learning digital marketing secrets from well-known thought leaders or dropping in on events like “The World of Ecommerce” to hear from the president of Shopify. Membership is currently invite-only, but finding a way in is worth the legwork.
11. Executive Suite
A private LinkedIn group, the Executive Suite gives you access to free online learning sessions led by experts from A-list CEOs to B-school professors to accomplished career strategists.
You have to be a senior-level executive to gain entry to this network of more than 350,000, but if you fit that bill, the group provides an effective way to leverage your profile beyond recruiting and status updates.
12. Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
WBENC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women-owned businesses thrive. Once your business is certified, you’ll have access to networking events, pitch opportunities, awards and scholarships, and coaching programs focused on business development for female entrepreneurs.
13. Black Girl Ventures (BGV)
Uplifting Black and Brown, women-identifying founders is the core mission of Black Girl Ventures. The organization supports tech-enabled businesses that generate under $1M in revenue by giving members access to social and financial capital. Community participation allows for direct investment into companies, which has helped BGV raise over $10M in revenue for over 130 women of color.
14. WEConnect International
Competing in the global market can level up your company, which is why WEConnect puts money into the hands of women business owners. By connecting businesses with international prospects, entrepreneurs enhance their ability to compete in the global market, ensure sellers meet buyers’ standards for women-owned businesses, and access new opportunities.
15. Minority Business Development Agency
Minority women comprise the fastest-growing population of entrepreneurs and deserve the resources needed to develop successful companies. The MBDA is the only federal agency dedicated to helping minority entrepreneurs through grants, funding programs, and educational initiatives.
An entrepreneur education program designed for underrepresented early-stage founders, NewMe provides mentorship, a specialized curriculum, and strategic planning.
You can get assistance prepping your investment pitch or join an accelerator program to dive deep into your marketing, sales, and product strategies with this resource. To date, NewMe has helped founders raise $47M in funding.
17. Backstage Capital
While Backstage Capital isn’t a traditional network, it’s a tremendous resource for women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ founders to seek investments. The organization has invested in over 150 companies and also offers resources, courses, office hours, and newsletters for entrepreneurs to level up their skills and grow their businesses.
18. United States Minority Chamber of Commerce
Another federal agency providing services to minority business owners, the US MCC is a hub for economic, education, and entrepreneurship development. It has more than 32,000 members through the US and Latin America who can connect with international investors and business owners and access resources on trade, contracting, certification, and more.
As you start to put yourself and your company out there, keep these words from Ginni Rometty, the former CEO of IBM, in mind: “Growth and comfort do not coexist.”