By David Kraus

Supporting a community of entrepreneurs is no small task, which is why it can be helpful—and necessary—to bring others on board in your effort. In our May Community Call, we wanted to highlight the benefits, necessities, and pitfalls of engaging in partnerships with outside organizations.

Two CO.STARTERS community leaders, Jackie Albright and Allen Woods, shared wisdom from their experiences engaging with partner institutions. As the assistant director of ETC Baltimore, Jackie collaborates with numerous entrepreneurial support programs across the city in an effort to ease communication between ecosystem players. Allen, the creative director of MORTAR in Cincinnati, spoke specifically about MORTAR’s partnership with SCORE. An offshoot of the Small Business Administration, SCORE connects disadvantaged entrepreneurs with retired executives, who serve as mentors.

Allen and Jackie both drove home the importance of defining the mission and purpose of your own organization prior to undertaking a partnership. Allen pointed out that a deep understanding of your own organization’s mission lends you an awareness of “who you are and who you aren’t.” Not everyone will want to partner with you, and that’s to be expected—in fact, it’s a good sign that your institution’s goals have been communicated specifically enough. On the other hand, knowing your own mission and needs also helps you in identifying the outcomes you desire in a partnership, which will help you find the best potential collaborators.

Jackie emphasized the importance of maintaining interconnectedness between collaborators by technological means. Keeping a shared calendar of community events, constructing a master Google sheet of spaces and opportunities for all who are involved, and sending out group reminders are great ways to encourage partners to be better resources for each other.

Finally, Jackie and Allen agreed that beneficial partnerships require a clear understanding of the organizations’ expectations for each other. MORTAR, Allen shared, uses memorandums of understanding to outline and articulate responsibilities of both parties for the collaboration. The extra effort in explicitly communicating expectations has a return on investment. Conflicting interests are more efficiently dealt with when put into in writing and problems are much easier to navigate with guidelines in place.

Drawing on Jackie and Allen’s experiences, it’s clear that you don’t have be everything in and of yourself to your entrepreneurs.  By establishing clear communication and roles with external partners you can yield fruitful results for your community and your startups.

Image Credit: Startup Week Chattanooga, a great example of community partnership