Office of Unemployment Insurance Strategic Partnerships Outreach Strategy Takes Shape

Businesses and nonprofits of all sizes in Iowa who may not have considered partnering with the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business as a consulting resource or analysis might want to take another look.

In mid-2021, Tippie College launched a new Office of Strategic Partnerships and hired veteran business executive and consultant, Dave Ernst, to lead the initiative. Its goal is to coordinate current pockets of engagement across the college of commerce, with the goal of both deepening current relationships and creating new engagements with employers across the state.

“It’s a win-win situation as our partners get solutions and the college gains visibility,” Tippie Dean Amy Kristof-Brown said when announcing the initiative in July.

Ernst has held several business development positions in several education-related companies. He was most recently senior vice president of utilities and business development for Cognia, a Georgia-based assessments developer. He also held numerous positions at Pearson in Iowa City, including Regional Vice President and Vice President/Director of the Corporate Research and Innovation Network, and at Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids.

The Office of Strategic Partnerships provides a single point of entry and connection to Tippie’s collegiate resources for businesses, including:

  • The Tippie Analytics Cooperative, the college’s industry-oriented arm for all things analytics. The co-op builds partnerships across the region that result in hands-on projects for Tippie students and data-driven business decisions for its customers.
  • The Marketing Institute, which partners with external corporate clients to address marketing challenges.
  • The Tippie Leadership Collaborative, a resource center for businesses and nonprofits seeking management expertise through expert speakers, customized executive training, and research partnerships.
  • The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, a resource for economic development in the region with a focus on small businesses and startups.
  • Creating business partnerships will increase the number of student projects, live case studies and consulting opportunities students and faculty will have using real-world data, Kristof-Brown said. Strong engagement with students will help organizations solve business problems and expose them to a high quality workforce. If done well, partnerships could also lead to increased corporate-generated philanthropic support for the college’s mission.

“We strive to be a catalyst for transformation through thought leadership, training innovative problem solvers, and productive partnerships,” Kristof-Brown said. “It’s a bold step towards that vision.”

The Business Record recently interviewed Ernst, along with Mackenzie DeRoo, Associate Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships, and Stephen Courtright, Director of Executive Education at Tippie Leadership Collaborative, for insight into the initiative’s strategy. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

BR: So the overall mission seems deceptively simple: to connect businesses and other organizations to college resources to help them grow, but extremely difficult to achieve statewide. How do you get your arms around this?

Ernest: I think the first two months you focus on the inside, then you fix your eyes on the outside. And with that, what we’ve seen is an increasing level of engagement from companies and organizations that otherwise didn’t really have a way to access some of the talent from the university. So we really see ourselves being approached in our office by two people as being indicative of the level of activity here in the state of Iowa and elsewhere.

An important aspect of the office will be building relationships with various regional markets within the state. So we’re starting to see the Des Moines market, the Quad Cities, and the Cedar Rapids corridor as having unique needs.

DeRoo: Another element of our strategy to engage the business community is to engage with economic development organizations. I just had a quarterly meeting with several people from the university who regularly do this kind of corporate engagement, and the point that came up again was the workforce, whether it’s hiring new talent, retaining current employees or determining whether a virtual or hybrid type of landscape is an opportunity or a threat to a state like Iowa.

In my previous role, I did employer engagement and placement for two specific masters programs, so it was very hiring-focused. But we also knew we had this great job that Stephen [Courtright] done with Tippie Leadership Collaborative to help companies retain their current employees, to help them improve their skills, especially in leadership, so they can be better managers at retaining and hiring great teams. So when I was able to move into this office, it became a way for me to bring all of these opportunities together.

Right of justice: Another way to think of the role of Dave and Mackenzie — who’s just been a tremendous asset to the college so far — is as a hub and spoke model. So the Tippie Leadership Collaborative may have strong relationships with some companies, but [needs] a kind of central office to help connect the places internally to each other to really have a full-service solution for these businesses. I think the [Office of Strategic Partnerships] simply positions us to better serve the needs of Iowa businesses.

[The Tippie Leadership Collaborative, or TLC, launched just a little over a year ago, provides customized services for organizations, including MBA programs as well as research, consulting and conferences for companies on various topics.]

Ernest: For example, we spoke to a company that got excited about [the Tippie Leadership Collaborative’s] education offerings – they had workforce managers who needed additional training and development. …So they envision the unique partnership that [the college] must do this. …While we spoke with another company where one of our alumni came back and said, “We would really like to support the university; we have internship opportunities. Another day, we received a request from a company in Des Moines that said, “We need these kind of students for an internship; What do you have?” So every day it’s a different part of this hub-and-spoke that Stephen talked about, and we try to drive traffic and keep up with those requests.

Right of justice: Looking to the future, one of [the TLC’s] The biggest priorities we are currently working on are to create a non-profit fund that is primarily donor funded. So let’s say the West Liberty City Library comes to us and says, “We really need to formalize some of our HR processes. Well we [can say we] have a fund that can help pay for teachers’ time to help them with this. This is one of our top priorities right now to better serve organizations that don’t have the resources to afford this kind of service.

What can the Office of Strategic Partnerships do to support rural businesses?

Ernest: When I met with a group of CEOs of small and medium-sized businesses – some of them startups, some family businesses – their question was: how will the university support us, versus maybe be at a bigger company like Collins or Principal? … So that allowed us to go back and think about that. We have JPEC, which is an acronym for the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, and they support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, start-up types of businesses, and they support internships for students and pay half the fees for that company for this student to do an internship. So we use the JPEC, [which is] part of the Tippie College of Business, to support local businesses. In another program, primarily through the Tippie Executive Education Program, we have partnered with a local chamber to offer [the program’s] services through a chamber, so it provides access to everyone, as opposed to a direct to business model. We use the Iowa City Area Business Partnership to do this. So we’re certainly looking at how we reach those kinds of businesses.

Courtright: with the [Iowa City Area Business Partnership], we have an ongoing session on hiring and retaining talent, employee engagement, and preventing burnout during COVID. We have a session on diversity and inclusion. These are topics that Business Partnership CEOs want to hear about, and they feel that Tippie has the expertise on these topics. For us personally, we have a real interest in contributing to rural areas, coming from very rural backgrounds. My father ran small cheese factories in Wisconsin; Allison [Yoder, events and administrative coordinator] grew up on a soy and corn farm. i know i mentioned [helping] large companies… but we are really looking for a diversified portfolio.

Are there any new initiatives being developed in addition to existing programs that will be under the Office of Strategic Partnerships?

Ernest: Absoutely. We are looking at several things. In the field of risk management and insurance, we are evaluating what it would mean to offer a degree program in insurance. And we have growing opportunities in marketing. Our marketing major continues to grow, along with our analytics program. So we envision an inside sales lab, setting these up for students to work with companies to provide inside sales support and resources. This is another that is kind of in the gestation period. We continue to develop and support our flagship projects with students and companies, and to formalize these opportunities. It’s an established opportunity, but we’re really trying to create real growth and expand it to other undergraduate programs. Finally, one of the things we are thinking about is an internship coordinator. There are plenty of opportunities for students and companies to have internships – to try students before they buy, if you will. We have our Pomerantz Career Center that does all of that, but we want to customize it in a way that we can really reach out to students to entice them into those internships and get them on the right path.

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