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Stakeholders are essential to incubator success; they can also cause problems. Cultivating good relationships with sponsors, funders and community leaders can help make your program a success. This article describes common challenges in the realm of managing stakeholder relationships.

Managing stakeholder relationships

by Corinne Colbert

December 2005

Ask some incubator managers about their program’s stakeholders, and they’ll tell you that their funders, partners and communities are supportive and helpful. They’ll proudly list their stakeholders and talk about the many ways they work together to make the incubation program efficient and effective.

But ask around enough, and you’ll hear some grumbling. These are the stories that begin, “Please don’t tell anyone I told you this.” Some are personal experiences; others are secondhand accounts of notorious stakeholder issues. Some are just plain nightmares.

Like the manager who was expected to work for free when his program lost funding (he quit). Or the university incubator manager whose carefully built rainy-day fund was appropriated by a dean for a different department. And the successful programs shut down by politicians who either didn’t understand business incubation or preferred to spend economic development dollars chasing smokestacks.

Remember, your stakeholders aren’t just the people who give you money. Stakeholders are anybody (other than staff) who has a vested interest in the success of an incubation program. By this definition, your stakeholders might include sponsors, service providers, board members, successful entrepreneurs, community leaders, and even the public at large that benefits from a strong local economy.

Although stakeholders’ interests vary widely, there are several common issues in managing your relationships with them. Read on to learn about them – and maybe pick up some tips for making your stakeholder relationships all they can be.

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Keywords: professional development -- general, advocacy, effective communication, marketing and promotion, partnerships -- organizational/corporate, sponsor, stakeholder development, stakeholder relationship management

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