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Listen to Your Entrepreneurs and Don’t Feel Like You Have to Plan Every Minute

Posted By Christine Pigsley, Monday, June 30, 2014
Updated: Monday, June 30, 2014
Submitted by Amy Schulz, Director of Career and Technical Education, Economic Workforce Development
Feather River College
aschulz@frc.edu  

Feather River College received a Coleman Entrepreneurship in Action Grant at the 2013 NACCE Conference to Increase Entrepreneurs' Engagement in Community Colleges through an entrepreneurship succession planning and internship project. Since this was a grant-funded project, we initially thought the activities should be very structured and planned. It doesn’t always work that way in entrepreneurship. We learned that entrepreneurs enjoy the space to be able to reflect. Monthly planning meetings turned into a time of reflection and wonderful unexpected collaborations across sectors. Our advice for engaging entrepreneurs from the community: Build the framework for meetings, book the space, provide food, get out of the way and LISTEN.

So, here is the story of one of our program participants so you can see what it really means to engage with your entrepreneurs and be ready to take the journey with them.

Roxanne Valladao is a living legend in Plumas County. As executive director of Plumas Arts, she is known for bringing in top notch talent to perform in rural and remote Plumas County for over 30 years. Under her leadership at Plumas Arts, she has saved a 150 year-old theatre which earns revenue from playing first run feature films while serving as the cultural heart of community and a venue for live performances. She converted a run-down dive bar on Main Street into a beautiful gallery and retail space, providing entrepreneurial opportunities for local artisans. Her efforts in promoting the arts as a key to cultural and economic development have not gone unnoticed. Tiny Plumas Arts is one of the highest ranking arts commissions in the whole state of California.  When Roxanne and board president, Kara Rockett, participated in the Feather River College Business Succession Pilot, funded by the Coleman Foundation, folks became concerned. Rumors swirled around town. “Is Roxanne retiring?”  “What is Plumas Arts going to do without her?” “Are we still going to get the great talent to come to Quincy?”

Roxanne just turned 60, and she is planning to retire in the next 2-5 years, but not now. The Business Succession Planning pilot was the perfect opportunity to explore succession and to be proactive about how the torch is passed. Like many entrepreneurs, Roxanne has poured her heart and soul into Plumas Arts, building an organization over decades and sustaining it during lean times. Plumas Arts is very personal to her—it is her legacy. It’s not so easy to hand over to just anyone, and it’s not so easy to think about either. After some prompting from the state arts commission, which ranked Plumas Arts as excellent in every category except in succession planning, Roxanne decided to jump on board the Feather River College project.

The Business Succession Planning pilot combines the resources of the college’s entrepreneurship program with those of the internship program. By pairing student mentees with established mentors, the process could be facilitated and documented through the infrastructure of the college programs.  After enrolling in the internship class, Kara as board president was in a good position to participate as a mentee. Kara brings in the perspective and practical concerns of the board and to understand what needs to happen for an eventual transition. Kara could possibly be Roxanne’s successor when and if the time is right. Together Roxanne and Kara have explored delicate issues, such as staffing on a budget and transferring institutional knowledge that Roxanne and her veteran staff know innately. They have also faced the emotional side of succession together. Kara’s sensitivity and good intentions have made this a welcome and joyous process for Roxanne, which she was originally dreading.  

An unexpected benefit of this pairing has been their influence in the community. Just the fact that Roxanne was participating got the community to take notice. What started as concern for the future of Plumas Arts has turned into a healthy dialogue around the future of our local economy and the number of aging entrepreneurs. Who will be the next generation and take over established and beloved businesses and organizations, from non-profits to appliance repair? The magic of the grapevine has been the most powerful marketing tool, and entrepreneurs have approached the team at Feather River College for help with their succession planning. After reviewing and documenting the results of this pilot which included a total of three mentor/mentee pairings, Feather River College and NACCE are releasing a video to share this and more results from our project as well as making information available through our website. In addition, we are planning to continue this project in the Fall 2014 Semester through internships. For more information, please contact Amy Schulz at aschulz@frc.edu. 

Tags:  Coleman Foundation  community college  economic development  entrepreneurship  Feather River College  NACCE  Plumas Arts  succession planning 

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