Make 2018 Your Best Year Ever in Entrepreneurial Relations


Recently, an alumni relations professional emailed me about ideas to leverage an upcoming major entrepreneurship event at her university. She’s seen a steep increase in startup activity and interest on campus, and she knows it’s more than a trend — entrepreneurship is here to stay. 

Going forward, her work in alumni relations must include a deliberate plan for entrepreneurial relations. She must integrate this work into her alumni relations strategy and lay a path for a lifetime of engagement and philanthropy. 

So, for our colleague, the upcoming shindig is more than an event. It can jumpstart the growth she needs for the future. But like many fundraisers and alumni relations pros, she doesn’t yet have a framework for how to do this work. Given our tight hold on bandwidth and resources, working without a some guardrails can feel risky, uncertain, or worst of all — like wasted effort. 

At the same time, building enough expertise to guide a broad strategy can take a year or more, especially while breaking new ground for your campus. Convening a task force or defining outcome goals might require in-depth planning, and our colleague might not have enough time to complete that process before her event. Worse, she may find she needs to delay the process until she has the time to do so. Where do you begin?


In 2018, start small to finish big.

Here are three incremental concepts you can use to have your best year ever in entrepreneurial relations. Within each, I’ve suggested a few bite-size ideas. They involve both learning and action. You’ll come out on the other side with more knowledge, more confidence, and more connections — valuable whether you’re just starting out or leading a team.

First concept: EDUCATE

Ground yourself in three areas of knowledge: startup concepts, your alumni, and your ecosystems. Read some expanded thoughts on this here. For a quick start, try these strategies:

Read the tech press. Pick just one outlet, say, TechCrunch, or your local business news site, and read a story each morning. In 5–10 minutes a day, you’ll gradually absorb the vocabulary and key concepts of startups. It can help you understand the local startup scene (i.e. the “ecosystem”) as well. 

Look internally. Arm yourself with a few facts about your campus’ ecosystem. How many students use your entrepreneurial resources? Has an engineering lab spun off an interesting startup recently? Who are your community’s best-known entrepreneurs? These are good conversation starters, and I’ll give you another idea to put these into action in a moment. 

Second concept: PARTICIPATE 

Get in there! Become part of the ecosystem by using some of the products and strategies of your alumni entrepreneurs — then go talk to them about your user experience. Do the free trial. Sign up for the webinar. Download the white paper. Moving fluidly in the startup space begins here. 

Use social media. I primarily use Twitter and LinkedIn, but you may be an Insta-ninja. Share the factoids you found from the task above. Follow the folks you identified. Yes, you can speak to the masses with these platforms, but I prefer to gear my usage to an audience of one— the alum I'm trying to support. By using social channels to connect with and amplify the voices of my alumni partners, I’ve built genuine relationships and an audience of a few thousand across these platforms. Jump on Twitter, follow me @OaklandDD and let’s get to work! 

Make an infographic. This project teaches you to use a powerful medium (infographics are among the most shared content on the web). You can also take the opportunity to sample a few startups’ tools and get to know them a bit. As a bonus, you come away with a powerful storytelling tool you can use in meetings or on social media. 

Over the holiday break, I tackled this as a personal graphic design challenge. I used project management tool Trello (free) and visual design platform (free trial available). You can also try Airtable, Evernote, Asana, Venngage, or any number of other tools — especially if you have alumni at those companies!

Your infographic could focus on a particular department, year, or topic. Make it work for you by tying it to innovation or entrepreneurship. Let people know your team is working on it and collect ideas through the year.

Third Concept: AUTOMATE

Big companies automate many of their discovery, lead gen, and marketing activities with sophisticated high-tech tools. But you can also take some basic steps that help you move fast, and let tech do the work for you. 

Google alerts. Note the companies, people, schools, or regions you'd like to track and visit Enter the relevant search term combinations, and boom. Every day, the internet will tell you if there's something new to learn or share about the topics you follow.  

Social posting platform. Make your Google alerts work harder for you by signing up for a free account to Hootsuite, or one of the many other social posting platforms like Buffer or Sprout. Hootsuite has a free tier, and plugs directly into your social accounts. You can create lists of users (e.g. your entrepreneurial alumni, attendees at an upcoming event), quickly scan for content that is shareable, and the schedule the posts for the optimal times. This is a 10-minute investment per day. 

Your digital marketing team has expertise in these tools, I'm sure. But don't discount the value of you as an individual noticing and celebrating an alum's accomplishments. Often, you can tag your institution's main account, and they'll amplify the post— usually to an audience that is thousands of times larger than yours.  

These entrepreneurial relations tools are a great start. They'll spur engagement—and that's where our real journey begins. Share your journey with alumni. I guarantee they'll offer unique insights that help you plan the future.

Personally, I want to strengthen my own entrepreneurial relations and philanthropy practice this year, using these tools and a few more. I’m also studying the academic literature around entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and conducting independent research on the deeper currents influencing pre-exit philanthropy. Armed with this info, I can offer better perspective when advising programs, and, I hope, when writing for this blog!

What other ideas are you using to make 2018 a great year?