by Elyse Wild • photography by Two Eagles Marcus
Floriza Genautis is recognizable on sight—adorned head to toe in stunningly bright hues, decked out in glittering heels with nails to match, eye-popping accessories and sporting her signature, spiky black hair and a vibrant, contagious smile, it’s hard to walk into a room and not be immediately drawn to her.
“When I was moving here, I said, ‘I don’t know if West Michigan is ready for me yet!’” Genautis laughed.
Forging connections draws us out to experience the most fulfilling and delightful parts of life. Research continues to show the strength of our social relationships has a profound effect on our health; according to a study published by the National Institute of Health, individuals who have strong connections have a 50 percent lower risk of mortality than those who don’t.
Genautis moved to Grand Rapids 14 years ago, armed not only with years of experience recruiting talent in Silicon Valley during the pivotal years of the tech boom for heavy-hitting companies such as Hewlett-Packard, McAfee and Nike, but an invaluable ability to bring people together
and the foresight of how to do it.
Genautis describes recognizing the uncommon opportunity for forging sincere and vast connections West Michigan offers.
Floriza Genautis, co-founder of WISE in downtown Grand Rapids.
“I just love Grand Rapids,” she expressed.“You can actually connect with highly prominent, successful individuals with just picking up the phone. When you talk about connectivity, that is really where I saw that. It wasn’t there in Silicon Valley.”
Genautis started Management Business Solutions, a staffing agency, in 2006. But, before she opened the company, she had to wait out non-compete and non-solicitations contracts from her previous firm.
“[During this time], I had to be creative,” Genautis explained. “I really had to think, ‘How do I connect to the community and start this business?’ I started participating in a lot of different opportunities.”
Genautis dove in head first and began attending as many community events as would fit on her calendar. She would also travel across the state to attend networking events and educational workshops.
“I attended anything and everything,” she said.
Genautis sought to breath life into the traditional networking model she calls, “The chicken dinner” — dinner and a speaker followed by a brief opportunity to mingle — which left her feeling stagnant.
“I didn’t feel like I was actually making connections that would help me grow,” she said.
Genautis partnered with graphic designer Connie Sweet and started hosting networking events that included educational and social components, setting an atmosphere for bonding, sharing and growing. And so, Women In Successful Enterprises (WISE) was born.
“We thought, ‘We need to change this,’ We need more connectivity — more in-person connection.”
Genautis and fellow attendees at a WISE event.
Ten years later, WISE is thriving, hosting four annual events during which women are provided the opportunity to socialize, learn and flourish. The organization operates on three pillars— connectivity, education and being a resource—and invites any and all women to join.
“We just have this big urge to help out and give women the resources to connect,” Genautis shared.
“We just have this big urge to help out and give women the resources to connect.” –Floriza Genautis, Co-Founder of WISE
Local artist Abigail Bradley was compelled to join WISE when she felt the need to grow professionally and start forming relationships within the community.
“The group of women who go to these events are so approachable and down to earth; they all want to connect more,” Bradley said.
For $25, WISE attendees have access to educational resources, wine, food, and each other. In May, WISE hosted local all-women comedy troupe Funny Girls at Start Garden to regal attendees with improv, stand-up and sketches that poked fun at the ever-elusive concept of work-life balance and the oft-discussed notion that professional women can “have it all.” Among roaring laughter, Genautis darted between seats, smiling and filling wine glasses while making sure everyone had what they needed to get the most out of the evening.
“We want to make sure the price point is accessible to everyone,” Genautis said.“It’s all about helping people grow, and we don’t want the price to be a hinderance. There is always an educational component, then we throw in something fun.”
WISE’s third event of the year is always held at Varnum Law— where one is treated to what is arguably the most awe-inspiring view of the city—and brings in a speaker or a panel of speakers to discuss the elements of being a professional woman in fields dominated by men. The fourth quarter event allows participants the opportunity to engage in community giving; all proceeds from the event are donated to a non-profit chosen for its focus on leveraging opportunities for women. This year, WISE third quarter event, held on August 23, will cover mitigating personal and business risk, while the fourth quarter annual giving back event will focus on exploring personal potential. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Dominican Sisters of Marywood.
Of WISE’s charismatic programing, Genautis says it’s all about, “trying to be innovative with how to connect.”
“I love the fact that there is a learning component and a community component,” Bradley stated. “It’s an all-encompassing group.”
Bradley served as a WISE Advocate, a group of individuals who make up the informal WISE board, which gatherers annually to plan the year’s programing and rotate to lead the work on each event.
WISE events see a turn out of 30-45 women, which Genautis describes as the perfect number for a dynamic and intimate experience.
Genautis’ excitement for connectivity is palpable; her voice picks up, her smile widens and her eyes shine when she discusses how one’s potential can be unlocked by sincere and meaningful relationships. When asked what has been one of the most gratifying outcomes she has seen with WISE, Genautis lights up and says, “Abigail Bradley.”
“She [Bradley,] surrounded herself with professional women at WISE and grew to be very successful as an artist from what she learned at WISE,” she shared. “I am so proud of her and where she is at.”
Bradley speaks to the impact of Genautis’ belief in power of coming together.
“She has a generous spirit and a deep passion for wanting to inspire others to come together as a community,” Bradley expressed.
To connect with Genautis and WISE, visit wiseconnections.org
When she is not editing for WLM, Elyse enjoys traveling to far off lands, enjoying live music, and practicing kung fu. She is also the owner of Your Story, a personal biography writing service for senior citizens.