Resource:How to develop community and university based entrepreneurial events on campus?

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Developing Community and University based entrepreneurial events on campus is a highly effective way of spreading messages and building awareness on campus. This guide explores the many different aspects of both developing and running successful events.

Securing Funding and Support

When taking on the challenge of developing community and university based events at your campus one of the first things you will need to do is create a network of people who can support you and some sources of funding to help with the costs you will encounter along the way. There are many avenues to explore here but some that have been quite successful in the past are detailed below.

Faculty Support

Finding a faculty member in a position of relatively high power can be greatly beneficial to the success and longevity of your events. Someone in the Business or Engineering faculty are generally your best bet as they can have access to sums of money dedicated to funding student activities such as your event. Look for a dean or associate dean who has lots of connections and approach them with a planned pitch of your idea, making sure to show your passion to make an impact and achieve your goals.

If you are successful here and are able to show your dedication to the activities you will be well on your way to creating a powerful relationship that can help support you through future events and activities at your university.

Community Support

It can also be helpful to start reaching out to other individuals such as local entrepreneurs and business representatives that would be willing to mentor you and advise on some of the tough decisions that you will be faced with. Creating a board of advisors will be extremely beneficial for securing company sponsorships, expanding your network and getting feedback on the work you are doing. This may also lead to future funding opportunities.

Alternative funding sources may also include university alumni, start-up incubator programs, financial institutions and companies related to the goals or theme of your event. Searching for national organisations may also uncover grants available for active student groups and students who are trying hard to make a change.

The main idea here is to reach out to those in positions of power that can help you achieve your goals through guidance and financial assistance. Once you have gained a solid foundation here, the rest of your work will be far easier to achieve.

Building a Leadership Board

Another key step in ensuring the successful development of your event, which may even be more important than securing funding, is creating a board of student leaders to work with you on the project. These students will be the A-Team, the guys and girls that put in the hard yards, working together to make your vision come true.

Leadership boards should consist of 3-4 core people but will primarily depend on the amount of work needing to be done and the size of the event. When reaching out to students to help you there are some key qualities that will make them perfect for the job:

  • Great communication skills
  • Openness to try new things
  • Self-motivated

These qualities will not only make your goals far easier to achieve but will ensure you are building a team that will be working towards a common vision and willing to put in the effort to get the job done.

These people can be hard to find, and it may be tempting to look to senior students as a source of experience and maturity. Caution should be taken with senior students however; as they will be graduating soon and you may be left with half a leadership board and an unfinished event. Try looking for younger students who are showing a keen interest to get involved and are willing to jump on board. They may need a little guidance at first, but by getting them on board and trusting them you are not only providing them with new experience but also ensuring the continuation of such activities after you graduate and move on from your university.

It is always important to remember that university can be very challenging and at times the workload (as I’m sure you are all aware) can get very heavy. Don’t load your team up with more than they can handle and always make sure that everyone is coping with their assigned tasks. A strong team will always look out for each other and be able to handle their studies along with the fun extracurricular activities such as event organisation. See the following section for more details on managing the workload when developing events on campus.

Managing the Workload

Even with plenty of people to help you, managing and running an event can be daunting. As a result, it is important to allocate work evenly and efficiently amongst your group members. When doing so, it is important to understand that people like direction. Rather than asking questions about what to do, a good event leader will delegate tasks appropriately. As a leader, you must trust in your teammate's ability to perform in a timely manner. Another great way to manage an event workload is to hold frequent meetings leading up to the event. Now only does this keep everyone in the group up to date with the preperation status, it can also serve as a platform to introduce new ideas or features into the event. These include, but are not exclusive to, guest speakers, stakeholders, and other influential students. 

As you prepare for your event, you may find the work or effort of another individual helping you to be unsatisfactory. Though it is good to have a high standard for your event, you can't expect everyone in your group to have the same vision, expectations, and attention to detail as you. It is important to set realistic standards for your team and to delegate tasks to individuals based on their personal skills and ability to handle their workload. This requires a good amount of personal knowledge of each individual you are working with as communication is key to the success of the event as a whole. Simple activites such as grabbing lunch and chatting with a colleague can do this. Make sure to ask how they are doing and how they are managing their work. 

Event Structure

The event structure for any entrepreneurial event is extremely important. The structure is an outline of the different steps which will happen in a specific order. Not only is this a great planning tool, but it is also essential to ensure everything runs smoothly on the day of the event. This structure will not only be valuable in outlining the timeline, but also be instrumental in dictating the success of the event. 

The structure will dictate the levels of engagement with participants and also the likelihood of future success and re-engagement with participants. Events need to be engaging, thought provoking and appealing in order to attract and educate your audience. The event structure provides the steps to make this a reality.

When planning the structure of an event it is essential to consider the needs and wants of your participants before making any decisions. Ask yourself,

  • Work is your average student looking for? It could just be as simple as free pizza, which could be an easy way to attract students into events
  • What event length would best fit these students needs? Sometimes a 1 hour long hackathon can be much more effective and thought provoking then a 3 day hackathon
  • How can I best engage with these students? Is it with great speakers, real-life success stories, or something on a more personal level?

When deciding on an event structure, there are many different things to take into consideration including,

  • The topic which will be discussed - more complex topics will require additional time to describe the problem space
  • The type of results you are expecting from participants - students will be able to achieve a lot more detailed findings from a week long hackathon, in comparison to an hour long hackathon.

Reaching Out to Your Audience

Even with the best possible event with the most valuable content for learning it isn't much help if we can’t get students to attend the events. There are different ways to spread information around campus. 1- Handing out flyers and hanging them in buildings in the campus. 2- Having your team and network spread the word by speaking with students on campus and informing them about the upcoming events. 3- Asking faculty members to send out emails to all the students in a specific department such as the engineering department and encouraging them to attend. The flyers must be engaging and straight to the point. It should contain what the event is about, what are the learning outcomes of attending, date and time, name of guest speaker if there is any and also as a bonus stating that food is provided and there are prizes.

One of the best methods for getting the interest of attendees is having food at the event as most college students love free food. Also for certain events we can set up competitions with prizes at the end. However the amount of food and the types of prizes are all reflected by the funding from sponsors and the dean.

Motivating Attendees and Maintaining Engagement

Keeping your attendees motivated and retaining engagement is vital in building your community. This can be broken down into two steps that is to: Identify and Providing appropriately. It is always a good start to identify what your attendees want out of your events. Some major incentives at events include:

  • Provided food
  • Prizes for competition
  • Networking opportunities from big companies, to meet like minded individuals etc
  • Skills development and learning opportunities 

Being able to provide these resources in an efficient and appropriate manner is important. It is a good idea to reflect on how you've provided and evaluate on the effectiveness of it.

Ultimately at the end of the day you are providing for your community to grow and build upon itself. To identify what your community needs can be simple if you are perspective and observant from previous experiences. Even having a conversation, survey or a debrief session with those involved can be the missing key in maintaining your attendees' motivation.

Measuring the Success of Your Event

In the long term of supporting your community you want to be able to have some quantitative measurements. A measurement of success of your event is not only good for yourself to reflect on, it is important for you to find room for improvement and also comes in handy when you seek for sponsorships and external support.

In measuring the engagement of your event and growth of your community, you can look at some of the following:

  • Number of participants
  • Number of prototypes
  • Amount of money given away
  • Number of sponsors

These are major elements in seeking measurement of stakeholder engagement. There are more technical methods of measuring explained in this article. Also keep in mind that there are similar communities like yours around the world. It is a good idea to look into their goals at other incubators and communities, perhaps a conversation could be sparked from it.

Student Contributors

A huge shout out to all the student contributors who helped make this page.

Also a massive thank you to Grant Jacoby for sharing his UIF experience and offering his support in order to make this page possible.