Submitted by: Steven Groner, Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Success
Kaskaskia College, Centralia, Illinois
Kaskaskia College added new-for-us program delivery methods through the 2013-2014 Coleman Action Grant Project. We proposed three formats and have them all underway:
1) Start Entrepreneur Clubs in two rural towns
2) Deliver a concentrated, 16-hour business skill Summer Bootcamp
3) Launch a CEO Roundtable targeted at 2nd tier companies- those having successfully progressed beyond startup
Each program has produced its’ own set of lessons learned and made our school stronger. As a result, we have increased our engagement with the entrepreneurs of our region. Our team wanted to share the experiences of one “E-club”- the one established in Salem, Illinois (population 7,500) last January. We have completed our eighth monthly meeting and can happily report on the growth and synergy of the group. In fact, you can follow the club on Facebook- Salem, IL Entrepreneur Club. You will find excitement, enjoyment and enthusiasm present.
EXCITEMENT:The group has two future-looking projects… tabletop displays at the Spring 2015 grand opening of a city walking trail, also a Christmas in July event for next Summer. We have a resource sharing/book lending meeting element that really opens up conversations too.
ENJOYMENT:We agree completely with Amy Schulz’s Feather River blog of a few months ago, where she observed “Listen to your entrepreneurs and don’t feel like you have to plan every minute. Build the framework for meetings, book the space, provide food, get out of the way and LISTEN.” The Kaskaskia College educational content for the meetings is brief and includes either a motivational video or an in-person guest speaker on a group requested topic. Our Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has donated interesting books that are used to reward those who “bring a friend”.
ENTHUSIASM:In addition to a club member starting our Facebook page, we have multiple volunteers each month that want to share their business story with the group. A “home run” for this club was catching the Salem Mayor’s interest. John Raymer has been a vocal supporter of the club and he sends his citizens our way. The E-club has expanded the Mayor’s vision of what our College can do for his community.
1. It takes a core group of 15 to 20 club members to reach a sustainable inertia. We did not have this size initially so perseverance and follow up have been needed. Summer schedules are a challenge for all, yet we now have over 25 members. Keep prospecting!
2. Involvement from diverse constituents and community groups is essential. For instance in our 2nd E-club, we are still hoping for a community champion or two. Have confidence and continue to press on.
3. Allow the group to evolve and build its’ own personality. The first few meetings deviated from agendas and recent sessions are less structured. You are onto something when sessions are productive and group chemistry is building.
4. Follow the Feather River College (California) philosophy of listening more and the college talking less!
5. Make certain that your College commitment is sustained, supportive and long term if you want to earn community support.
6. Proactively welcome participants and provide encouragement. Some entrepreneurs approached the initial club meetings with trepidation and are now actively contributing members.