The Uplands Region: A model for other School-based Enterprise networks

Several months ago, Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI) brought together seven school-based enterprises (SBEs) from across the Indiana Uplands region, allowing students, advisers and administrators to share best practices while also connecting with area business owners. What came from the first “Uplands Made Network” convening was a blueprint, of sorts, for how to drive successful partnerships between schools and local companies through student-run businesses.

First, said Michi McClaine, VP of talent development for ROI, is to recognize that “Each of the student-run businesses has its own feel. It’s not a cookie-cutter model.”

As part of its work to promote economic prosperity in the 11-county Uplands region, Bloomington-based ROI provides a range of education and workforce development programming, including supporting schools interested in creating or growing student-run businesses. To this end, ROI helps schools assess their programs and create strategies for the future. The nonprofit provides schools with market information and data that ensures they are responding to real needs and opportunities in the region and can also provide grants to support program implementation.

In the Uplands region, this has meant focusing on three sectors with lots of nearby opportunity – life sciences, national security and defense and advanced manufacturing – and connecting with companies operating in those industries. Communities and school districts interested in exploring SBEs should examine their region’s areas of opportunity, McClaine says, and then reach out to employers to learn how they can work together.

This kind of connection allows businesses to recognize that supporting SBEs is more than just a charitable act. “I would say, broadly, what is most impactful is for industry to see the role that schools play in the talent space,” McClaine says. “They begin to see that, with a partnership, with input, with mentorship, this could really shape their own talent pipeline.”

SBE students from the Indiana Uplands region at the first Uplands Made Network convening.

Once an SBE demonstrates this type of opportunity to an employer, the employer tends to want to get involved at a higher level. For some employers, this means supplying SBEs with high-tech equipment, on-the-job training and even supplier contracts. For example, Loughmiller Machine, Tool & Design has provided equipment to Loogootee Community Schools’ Lion Manufacturing to create parts for U.S. Navy warships. The company also sends an employee to the SBE on a regular basis to mentor students and guide the production process.

“They’re creating a seamless bridge between education and industry,” McClaine says.

It’s this type of bridge that Conexus Indiana will help regions replicate. Conexus will support SBEs in their efforts to build their programs, gather and use data, connect with area businesses and collaborate with nearby schools, with the goal of creating cohesive groups like those in the Uplands region across the state.

“One of my big hopes is that other regions will look at this and say, ‘Hey, it can be done,’” says Nikki Jagow, Manager of Talent Programs at Conexus.

Schools interested in learning more about how Conexus Indiana can help them build their own SBE network, contact Kyle Marshall at