Building Community Partnerships
Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
To borrow from poet John Donne's famous line, when it comes to establishing and building a strong program to support entrepreneurship, no community college is an island. Providing the full range of educational, advisory and support services needed to foster economic growth through entrepreneurship requires the ability to form broad-ranging community partnerships.
What does it take to build effective community partnerships? We talked with three member schools whose community partnerships have enabled them to significantly enhance their programming and services for entrepreneurs. Here are their recommendations on what it takes to build such relationships.
Indian River State College, Fort Pierce, FL
Associate Dean Jan Pagano head of Indian River State College's Entrepreneur Development Institute (EDI), points out that partnerships are especially important in the current climate in which college budgets are strained. "Today everyone has fewer people on their staffs so without these collaborations and partnerships we would not be as successful,” she says. "For example, through our partnership with the Town of Stewart, we receive part of the salary for a certified business analyst.”
"Also, our partnerships have benefited us because they mean we don't work in a vacuum,” Pagano adds. "When you create a great relationship with, let's say, an economic development corporation, there is a trust there. When they have an idea or we have an idea, we call and say ‘Let's do this together.' And because they know us and trust us, they give us support we need and also constantly refer businesses or entrepreneurs with ideas for new businesses to us for counseling.”
Pagano points to these keys for making partnerships work:
- Constant communication. "Nine times out of 10 communication is the most important element of what you do,” says Pagano. "We do newsletters and we communicate on a regular basis with our chambers and our EDC partners. We do a lot of it by being involved in the community and by making presentations.”
- View partners as clients. "We constantly survey them and find out what their needs are because this is a very fast paced business environment we're in,” says Pagano. "We have to work at the speed of business.”
- Make sure stakeholders in the college are involved. "You have to get support from your administration so they understand your mission,” says Pagano. "We are very fortunate that we have the support of our administration. If someone asks those folks a question about what we offer when they are out in the community, they know the answer. They act as ambassadors for our services. The more they know the more they can assist in getting the word out. That's critical. We are not the traditional educators, so it is important for others in the college where you work to understand what you do.”
Moberly Area Community College, Moberly, MO
As described in the Summer/Fall 2010 issue of the NACCE journal, Moberly Area Community College (MACC) formed a key partnership when the Missouri State Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) at the University of Missouri Extension approached MACC about becoming the only community college in the state to have a branch of the SBTDC on its campus. "Forming that partnership was a huge step for our Entrepreneurship & Business Development Center in terms of what they bring to the table in the way of resources and services,” says Terry Hughes, who heads the center.
"We never stop looking for partnerships that can advance our entrepreneurship center,” adds Hughes. "In a lot of communities the chamber of commerce is separate and the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is separate, but we've found that when we can all work together the community benefits because the chances of success are greater.”
According to Danny Lobina, director of the SBTDC at MACC, "Partnerships are important for having services available for the things you can't do. That's just as important as having those services yourself. You need to have the connections to provide the services people need. Also, by being on good terms with partners we're able to continue to work on projects with them instead of having those projects leave us. We're not just kicking a client over to another provider once they've used our services.”
The factors Hughes and Lobina say have been critical for forming successful partnerships include:
- Be a presence at community events. "Be involved in other partner's events,” advises Lobina. "We go to ribbon-cuttings and banquets; we try to be part of any event that's within our community. Being present and being available is what helps develop those partnerships. Yes, we know that if you're running an entrepreneurship center, you probably can hardly keep your head above water, but you have to realize that partnerships are going to make your jobs easier. It's going to be a team effort if you're going to be successful. You can't do it alone.”
- Look for diversity. "Often when people look for partners, they try to find commonalities, but I think you don't want to overlook the differences,” says Hughes. "You want to be diverse and you want to bring in new resources. Even though groups may be different than yours, they may bring in strengths you don't have.”
- Be knowledgeable about your community's resources and about the subject matter. "If you're going out to form a partnership, you'd better know what you're talking about and have the backing and ability to do what you say you can do,” stresses Lobina. "You have to know what your center is capable of doing and work to those strengths.”
Minnesota State Community & Technical College, Detroit Lakes, MN
The Entrepreneurship program at M State has benefited from its partnerships in ways big and small, according to Business & Entrepreneurial Services Director Beth Pridday. "We have relationships that allow us to offer classes, workshops and training out in the community at low or no charge,” says Pridday. "We bring the content and the experts and a partner provides the site and the technology and helps with the local marketing.”
M State also partners with other organizations, such as EDCs, to establish incubators like the one on their main campus. "Our model for this is that our partner becomes the landlord and we are the incubator manager,” explains Pridday. "It's their option to purchase or lease a building or have a building donated to them and we turn it into an incubator and provide the infrastructure. They then pay us to provide services to incubating tenants.”
Pridday also works hard to build small partnerships. "We have small collaborations on a lot of things,” she says. "This year for our speakers' series each person was sponsored at a very low level to help cover the marketing. We have in-kind programs with technology companies that help provide infrastructure for our incubator. Being rural and on a limited budget, it's important that we have people who want to help our own. They know entrepreneurship is key to our development versus bringing in a factory that will employ 300 people. We have people who invest thousands of dollars or as little as $50.”
Pridday says she's learned these lessons about building community partnerships:
- Leverage the e-ship buzz. As is true of many parts of the country, Pridday reports that there is a buzz around entrepreneurship in M State's region right now and she does everything she can to take advantage of that high interest. "We've positioned ourselves as an expert in entrepreneurship and incubation, and people appreciate that and see us as a resource and are coming to us to partner,” she says. "I sometimes feel over-exposed – I have three or four speaking engagements in some weeks – but having the opportunity for people to meet me is how I've gotten so many partnerships and donations.”
- Become friends with the media. "We have had amazing stories in the media,” says Pridday. "People have been able to read about us and identify with the kinds of things we're offering.”
- Show results. "This year even stronger collaborations have been formed because I've been able to show results, whether they're in hard numbers or feel-good stories,” says Pridday. "That creates a whole new level of buzz. I've been contacted by angel investors and others who I wasn't seeing a year ago; it brings a whole new wave of people who want to be associated with success.”
More on this Topic
- A recent NACCE webinar provides additional information on community partnerships. Visit http://www.nacce.com/?page=Pastwebinars and select "Navigating Politics, Entrepreneurs, and Bureaucracy: The Path to Creating a Meaningful Community College Entrepreneurial Program” to learn about the great partnerships Tulsa Community College leveraged to build their entrepreneurship program.
- Community Partnerships will be one of the tracks at the 9th Annual NACCE Conference in October in Portland, OR. All conference information can be found at www.nacce2011.com