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Fresh ideas for marketing your incubator: Find out what floods, port-a-potties, trading cards, and, yes – even a conventional scheme or two – have done for some programs

by Meredith Erlewine

October 1999

Flood waters rose around the city of Grand Forks, N.D., in 1997, submerging homes and workplaces in water, muck and mud. Making a devastating situation even worse, a downtown fire erupted, destroying 11 buildings in three blocks. The entire city – 60,000 people – was evacuated.

Across town, the Rural Technology Incubator, open for just a few months and about 50 percent occupied, sat perched on dry land on the western edge of the University of North Dakota campus. As water lapped at buildings a mere three blocks away, incubator staff saw an opportunity not only to help their community, but to perform some powerful public relations for the incubation program.

"The day after the flood swamped the city, I visited with emergency personnel, inviting them to utilize our incubator as a place for meetings," recalls Director Bruce Gjovig. "In another two days, we invited the Chamber of Commerce and United Way to set up emergency offices out of the incubator. That provided a beachhead for the business and nonprofit community to begin operations." The incubator also made available every bit of spare space, rent free, to businesses that needed to set up shop immediately because they had to serve their customers – flood or no flood.

Over the coming months, thousands of people from all segments of the community attended hundreds of meetings in the incubator, and staff made sure literature was available for everyone to learn the incubator's mission. "Although we interrupted that mission for seven months, the marketing and public service we performed allowed us to be fully occupied within six months after our temporary tenants moved into their restored offices," Gjovig says. "Our response to the community's needs provided an opportunity to let many people know what incubators do, why we do what we do, and helped build a strong support base for the community."

We're not suggesting that you need a natural disaster to market your incubator, just that the best opportunities come sometimes in unusual packages. Here are some ideas – from off-the-wall to no-brainers – from incubator staff who reached precisely the market they were trying to capture.

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Keywords: effective communication, idea generation and creativity, marketing and promotion, marketing/sales, networking, new technology, stakeholder development, stakeholder relationship management

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