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Giving Back by Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit
I feel like I am living the dream. Altitude turns 10 this year – something I could never have imagined in the winter of 2004 when we started this crazy, wonderfully fulfilling journey.
But I am not egotistical enough to think I got here without a whole lot of help. There have been several entities, a handful of mentors, a few inspirations and a lot of support from family and friends – not to mention my business partners – that helped us get to this point. Today, I’ll focus on two of the entities to which I owe a mountain of gratitude.
Planting the seed
Having earned my MBA from Lehigh University, I am especially appreciative of the doors the program has opened for me. From arming me with enough know-how to know the questions to ask to run this business to the credibility it provides to the network of alumni, when asked, I take every opportunity to give back whenever possible.
Each fall, when Dr. James M. Maskulka, associate professor, department of marketing at Lehigh University, approaches me to guest lecture for his integrated marketing class, I gladly accept.
I love it when I can connect with the students and see the light bulbs go off in their brains. There seems to be a real desire among these students to learn from real-world experiences – and they feel a certain connection knowing I sat in the same chairs they are sitting in – albeit almost 20 years ago.
As an entrepreneur, I can identify with the challenges in the early stages of a company’s development and share with these entrepreneurs successes, insight and learning moments.
This fall, Dr. Maskulka asked me to lecture on social media. I shared tips, strategies and tactics to best use social media in business. From creating an editorial calendar, to choosing platforms, to running metrics and analytics to determine ROI, I aimed to show that social media is not for the faint of heart, requires commitment and can be an effective tool when used appropriately. I talked about mistakes that have been made – and successes enjoyed. My hope and intent is to give these students a real understanding of what’s going on – something I had to learn the hard way.
I invite the most engaged students to apply for Altitude internship opportunities. Quite a few have gone on to land jobs at agencies big and small all over the country. We’ve ended up hiring several interns over the years into full-time jobs.
Providing feedback to start-ups
I will never forget how hard the first two years were for Altitude. Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP), which provides early-stage and established companies with funding, business and technical expertise and access to innovative, expert resources, was our first breakthrough client. We worked closely with BFTP and their clients providing a wide range of integrated marketing services.
One of the tools BFTP uses in particular is called a “Tiger Session.” These sessions bring together an expert panel of practicing professionals from a range of industries to provide feedback and suggestions for business-plan refinement to business owners. The sessions provide what’s been described as a “year’s worth of mentoring in a few hours.”
In late November, I attended a BFTP event and ran into a company for whom we did a Tiger Session earlier in the year. The CEO thanked me profusely and said many of the core recommendations that came out of the Tiger Session were being put into practice – and helping their business in ways they couldn’t have imagined. I am a firm believer that the heart and soul of our economy are small businesses. It is a fraternity I am proud to be part of – and one I am more than willing to help because I know how hard it can be to do it flying solo.
BFTP also partners with Lehigh to offer these sessions to fledgling entrepreneurs in the college’s Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) program. In this class, a group of cross-discipline students – engineering, design, business – collaborate to bring a real world product or service to life.
In fact, one of our longest standing and best clients – EcoTech Marine – was helped by a similar program at Lehigh. We did a Tiger Session for the student groups in a similar fashion and I am more than happy to share experience, so whenever I’m asked and it fits the schedule, I am happy to accept.
Thinking through the process
One of my favorite ways to give back is partnering with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Lehigh to present a Marketing 101 course. Over the years, I have gotten to help literally dozens of companies by sharing my philosophies on marketing, pointing out the must-dos and common mistakes. It’s something I’ve been doing for the last five years and will keep doing as long as they ask because I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact SBDC has on our local entrepreneurial community. I feel strongly that all of these efforts are key if we want to support the economic development in the Lehigh Valley.
At the recent LVTechFest, a great event put on by the Chamber, I met a woman who had been in my SBDC class four years ago. She recognized me – and thanked me. Her company is doing well and noted several “lessons learned” that I shared as being very helpful to getting them off and running.