by Beth Parkhill, Twin Cities Chapter Chair
It all started with a challenge from Kevin Lynch: recruit 50 social enterprises for the Summit trade show. Considering that our fairly young chapter had roughly 100 members, and less than 50% were social enterprises, it was a daunting task — on top of co-hosting the SEA Summit 2013! Even though we had never attempted anything of this size, the opportunity was too great to pass up. Thanks to an incredible amount of work by SEATC volunteers, the Marketplace was a resounding success. The key successes were:
1. Focus on Sales
Although we had been reaching out to potential members, the Marketplace was a concrete example of something unique we could offer. This large-scale event focused on them — providing a real sales opportunity. We chose to exclusively promote local social enterprise products and services as door prizes. It is part of our strategy to encourage social enterprises to buy from one another. Thousands of dollars worth of prizes were donated — and lots of attendees came away winners!
2. Large Scale Event Put Us On the Map
The scale made a huge difference; it was a perfect complement to our monthly topic-specific educational events and member tours. Bringing 50 highly diverse social enterprises together quickly proved that there was a large eco-system already here. Funders, politicians, community leaders, consultants, and others could physically see what a difference we could make! A highlight was St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman presenting the Social Enterprise Week proclamation. Our chapter’s connections grew significantly — and improved the visibility of all the social enterprises showcased at the Marketplace.
3. Inclusive for All (Thank you, United Way!)
Because this was the very first time a social enterprise tradeshow had ever been held in Minnesota, people were interested — but it wasn’t a proven success. Would any vendor sign-up? Would buyers come? A key sponsorship from the United Way provided automatic credibility. Many social enterprises had never participated in a trade show before. By eliminating exhibitor fees, both start-ups and industry leaders were willing to try it. The next hurtle was attracting buyers, influencers and funders. We personally invited business and government purchasing staff, associations, government officials (i.e., city council, economic development, governor’s office), chambers of commerce, consultants, and more. Because attendance was free, everyone could attend.
4. Dynamic Collaboration
There’s nothing quite like the energy of fully engaged people sharing experiences and knowledge! It was a diverse group, including start-ups (Beez Kneez), youth training (Genesys Works), arts co-working space (Intermedia Arts), B-Lab Certified (thedatabank), micro-lending for farmers (Renewing the Countryside), economic development (Hmong American Partnership), philanthropy (Finnegans beer), workforce development (Momentum Enterprises), a lender (Nonprofit Assistance Fund), and others. So many new relationships were made that night.
5. Strategic Media Partnership
Our relationship started when Minnesota Business magazine featured the Marketplace in May and offered special rates for vendors. Since then, we’ve started a strategic partnership with them. Not only are they committed to covering social enterprise from a business standpoint (vs human-interest), we will start blogging for them, too!
Our hardworking Marketplace team
Back row: Beth Mammenga, Steve Lockwood, Beth Megas, Andrea West, Scott Cole, Tom Triplett, Brian Paulson, Josh Senso Front row: Laurel Hansen, Colleen Ebinger, Beth Parkhill, Steven Olinger, Mary Serie, Kari Niedfelt-Thomas, Jack Katzmark
We’d be remiss not to thank the national SEA team for their work on the printed and online program and registration — and great food!
Because of the Marketplace, we have connected the social enterprise community in a new way and are moving ahead with new awareness, new members and new strategic partners.
Learn more about SEA Twin Cities Chapter here!