Of course, community colleges have long been accustomed to doing a lot with a little. So it should come as no surprise that NACCE members have found ways to offer students, entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs outstanding–and affordable–events that address the rising demand for good information on how to start and build a business.
We interviewed NACCE members in Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania and found they all have learned the same lesson: Building relationships is the key to being able to stretch your budget dollars for maximum impact. People in your community–and even from afar–are amazingly willing to lend a hand if you ask for their help.
Beth Pridday, director of the Business & Entrepreneurial Services Center at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Detroit Lakes, MN, is an experienced entrepreneur who has quickly become an expert at putting together entrepreneurship education opportunities with a thin budget. "Everything I do has to be low cost or no cost,” she says. "I have to find sponsors, or I have to get creative with speakers who want to be paid for appearing. Forging relationships with these folks and having them understand that part of working with us is charitable–a way to give back–is essential.”
Pridday knows her audience needs programming that is affordable. Building on an existing free speaker series that featured local entrepreneurs who gave inspirational talks without taking a fee, this school year she expanded the series to include regionally and even nationally known content experts. The inspirational events remained free, and the six events with content experts have very affordable fees. Those who attend just one event pay $15; attending four events costs $40 and attending all six costs just $50.
The Coleman Foundation Elevator Grant Pridday received at the NACCE Conference helped pay for marketing and speaker fees. She also sought sponsorships, asking for small amounts like $50 or $100 that were used for marketing. But when it came to speaker fees, Pridday really got creative.
"I called each speaker and negotiated with them,” she says. To get people who were used to earning, in some cases, thousands of dollars, she worked to create revenue-sharing opportunities around their talks. For example, some speakers are giving hour-long workshops after their talks that provide a more in-depth look at their topic; the speakers keep the fees charged for these add-on events. In other cases, speakers have books that they want to sell.
"One of the speakers came from a distance, and I was able to find another location about an hour away from us where she could do a second presentation that made her trip worthwhile even though we weren’t paying what she usually makes to speak,” says Pridday, who also managed to get a local hotel to donate a one-night stay to the traveling speaker.
It Takes a Community
Assistant Professor Sherry Tshibangu at Monroe Community College, Rochester, NY, and her co-event founders, entrepreneurs Bob Spinelli and Jeffrey Shepard, leveraged the power of relationships to launch "Pathways to Entrepreneurial Success,” an annual one-day community wide event for aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. During a year of planning, they built a coalition of academic, business and government organizations that resulted in an event that attracted nearly 400 people last November. The event was so successful that people are already looking forward to next year’s edition.
The event’s $14,000 budget was low, considering its impact and quality. There were two plenary sessions, a keynote luncheon speaker and two breakout sessions during which attendees had a choice of 10 topics designed to help entrepreneurs. All of this was offered to students for $10 and to the general public for $15. "We didn’t want cost to be an issue, but we thought it was important to attach a monetary value to the event,” says Tshibangu. About two-thirds of the attendees were from the community and one-third were students.
The event team began their fund-raising by going to the City of Rochester and the Rochester Business Alliance, who jumped on board immediately. "We also went to local businesses and by the time we approached the college about supporting the idea, we already had $4,000 committed,” says Tshibangu. "Other funding sources included five area colleges, including Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and the University of Rochester, community resources such as the Small Business Development Center and SCORE, and several local businesses. We wanted the entrepreneurial forum to be collaborative, so we actively solicited multiple sponsors. Sponsorships ranged from $500 to $2,500 with most sponsorships at the $1,000 level.”
A number of the speakers in the breakout sessions were also sponsors and entrepreneurs. For relatively little money, they got to expose their business expertise to a wide audience. Entrepreneurship students at Monroe also were involved in making the event happen. "We engaged the students in service learning,” says Tshibangu. "Their involvement included developing promotional materials, feedback surveys and managing the registration process.”
Scoring with SCORE
At Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, PA, Professor Richard Warner has quickly learned the value networking and relationship building can have for the school’s new Business Enterprise Center (BEC). "The most valuable contact I’ve developed has been with SCORE,” Warner says. "My advantage, and I don’t know if it’s the case all over the U.S., but here SCORE was looking for a place to have their own monthly meetings. They had been paying for meeting space, but we offered our space for free. As a result, we did a full-day conference with them in October. The SCORE relationship is very valuable, but it’s free to us!”
Thanks to the relationships he’s building with SCORE participants, Warner reports that other local business organizations are also starting to take notice of the BEC. "I am finding people are willing to not only donate but to have the BEC market their program or run their workshops now that they know we’re here.”
But the very best relationship Warner says he’s built is with his grant writer. "My first lesson in making this place a success was to get to know my grant writer first hand, and she has been so helpful,” he says. "The biggest thing we’ve done so far is that we had Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour come to campus and that was paid for by a Perkins grant. The cost of the Tour was over $10,000, and no one had tried to do this with Perkins money before, but Perkins paid for the whole thing. Not only was the Tour a huge success on campus, but it also has really helped me advertise my program in the community.”
The Topic Matters
At Bunker Hill Community College’s Center for Community Entrepreneurship, in Boston, MA, choosing a hot topic helped generate loads of help for the Center for Community Entrepreneurship’s (CCE) celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week last November. By focusing on environmental issues, Dean of Professional Studies Bogusia J. Wojciechowska, who spearheaded the creation of the CCE, and CCE Coordinator Jennifer Fukada were able to attract a wide variety of speakers–mostly for free.
"Our theme was going green, and the people who spoke were really interested in this issue so they were willing to speak for free or lower their normal fees,” says Wojciechowska.
"For six events over a five-day period, we paid a minimal amount for two speakers and had eight speakers from local businesses who came and spoke for free because the topic–getting local businesses to think green–was on point for them,” says Fukuda. "For example, two of the free speakers were the head of the Boston office of Zipcar and the founder and CEO of a local restaurant chain. It was a win-win because they got exposure to our students and we got great speakers!”
"When people actually got here, they were really happy to be here and wanted to interact with us more,” says Wojciechowska. "People were surprised at the size of our student body (11,000) and the breadth of our curriculum. For many of them it was the first time they’ve been to a community college and they were impressed.”
As others have experienced, a personal touch helped seal the deal with speakers. "A personal phone call is helpful and most people said yes,” says Fukuda. "People have become more aware of what community colleges are doing due to the downturn in the economy. There is a curiosity and an interest in helping. It’s a matter of targeting people who may have an interest in your campus and building logical partnerships.”