Support systems

Identifying and engaging community stakeholders from the start is key to a success startup

Early and effective stakeholder outreach is a key part of a successful project. Getty Images

Often times we think of technology as innovation. But innovation and the success derived from it is not always about technological advances.

Technological advances have driven innovation in all sectors of our economy. Technology and social media have driven social change and changed how stakeholders— the public and outside influencers — impact infrastructure and construction projects, and how they advocate with policy leaders. This includes the energy, utilities, infrastructure, real estate projects, and manufacturing industries.

Often times the innovation from technology is about a new way of thinking and how one adapts to, works with, and embraces technology and how it impacts a business or an industry. It is about a willingness to do things differently because technology now drives us to think creatively and differently than in the past. It is taking a new approach to how one manages risk, solves problems and meets the challenges facing a business or an industry.

Technology has changed how we communicate as a culture. It has changed how the public communicates with business and how business has to communicate with the public. Because of the growth and influence of social media in our culture, business must now mange a new kind of risk in the risk register of a project. It has to change how it interacts and communicates with stakeholders. It has to be more attentive and listen actively compared to how it operated in the past. Gone are the days when a project manager, private equity firm/investor or company developing a project can "keep their head down so they don't get shot at."

I listed the many industries that are impacted by social media. There is no better example of an industry that has had to change and use innovative and new ways of communicating due to technology. Regardless of the energy project, the development of oil & gas, building a pipeline, new utility lines, a refinery or chemical facility the industry now has to assess who their stakeholders are, listen to them attentively, and develop a strategic plan for outreach. If a company changes how they interact with stakeholders the associated risks will be minimized, mitigated and/or reduced.

There are a plethora of energy projects I can list that highlight how a business failed to innovate in response to how they failed to adapt to, work with and embrace the technology of social media and how it impacts them. One project sums it up, Keystone.

Effective stakeholder outreach has four parts: identification, analysis, prioritization and engagement.

Identification
The first step is to identify the stakeholders. This includes those who will be directly or indirectly impacted such as local, state and federal political leaders, NGOs, media, faith-based groups, landowners, civic leaders, nearby businesses and advocacy groups.

Analysis
The analysis is an evaluation of possible risks related to the stakeholders and the community where the project is planned such as stakeholders who might be opposed to the project, have concerns or be able to influence the process in any way. Have there been issues in the community or legislative bodies that might have a negative impact?

Prioritization
Prioritization is the process of taking the results from the analysis of stakeholders and determining what risks or issues exist. These risks are ranked. Strategies and tactics are developed to address and mitigate them. Finally, a determination is made regarding how and when to communicate with stakeholders.

Engagement
Engagement is the final part of stakeholder outreach. This is the process of communicating with stakeholders to explain the project and how they will be impacted. It will also serve as an opportunity to solicit feedback and insight as well as to continue analyzing risks from stakeholders.

Early and effective stakeholder outreach is a key part of a successful project. It is a new and innovative way of thinking about how to understand and mitigate project risk. It is a willingness to change because technology has shifted how our culture communicates, advocates and engages with business, policy leaders and one another.

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Andrew Biar is founder and president of Strategic Public Affairs, a government relations and PR/communications firm based in Houston.
Most venture capital rejection is because of one or more of these three reasons. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

One of the most common questions that pops up in startup circles is, "Why did they turn me down?" There are myriad reasons why a venture capitalist might turn down pitches and decline funding. Here, I'll present the three most common.

They don't understand your business

Einstein once said, "If you cannot explain it to a six-year old, you don't understand it yourself."

If you spend an entire presentation showing well-researched facts and figures, talking about how groundbreaking your idea is, and presenting detailed charts and graphs, but your audience still has no idea what you do, you're in trouble.

Moreover, avoid overusing jargon and esoteric terms in your pitch. Speak simply.

If you cannot explain in simple terms what your startup does and why it's marketable, potential investors have no reason to believe you will know what you're doing with their money. To sum up, they'll think you don't understand your own business.

They don't think you've done the legwork

Some venture capitalists invest in early stage startups, so it's totally normal for them to sit through pitches where a product has not even been built yet. Consequently, the problem comes when it becomes evident the startup founder has failed to do any legwork. As a result, investors are likely to feel insecure about giving their money to someone who couldn't even do simple research.

Sure, the product hasn't been built, but that is not an excuse to sit back on cruise control. In other words, don't take your foot off the gas. Move forward constantly and don't stop learning more about your industry.

What have you done for customer development? Customer discovery? How many potential customers have you talked to? How much would they pay for your product or service? Have you studied the competitive dynamics of the market for which you will enter? Who is your competition and what are their strengths and weaknesses? You get the picture.

Certainly, one big misstep among startup founders is that they tend to believe work should not be done until they attain funding. Wrong. During your struggle to attain money, you should be busy learning everything about your industry, market, and customers. That way, once you finally get that meeting with an investor, they will feel much more confident that you will use their money intelligently.

They don't see that you have a strategy

It's an unfortunate commonality that a startup founder will put together a great pitch, get deep into it in front of a venture capitalist, and then unravel the entire presentation by exposing themselves as not having a plan of attack for the market. To clarify, it is a huge waste of your time to undo all your hard work by showing you don't have a strategy. Remember, investors are looking for reasons to pass on you.

When asked about their strategy for reaching the market, a common refrain is, "we will provide this awesome service (or make this awesome product) and the customers will roll right in." Or even "we will partner with this corporate giant who will sell our product because it's that amazing."

Above all, you must show your potential investor that you have the wherewithal to create, polish, and scale a reliable process that reaches your customer base.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.