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The art of operations

by Colleen Killen-Roberts

Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship

Climbing the BRV mountain

A few months ago, our team had what I will call a breakthrough. After years of creating new programs and integrating them, we found a new way to tell our story.

You see, it’s not easy being an operating foundation. In fact, less than 6% of all U.S. foundations fall into this category. With program work, identifying your value proposition and communicating it to your customers can be challenging.

Despite this, our team has benefited from several years of being “in the flow,” and we’ve created five new programs. Our programming is solid and has positive outcomes for our entrepreneurs that we can point to. And now we have a better way to tell our story, in the form of a visual we call “the mountaintop.”

The mountain represents Big Rock Valley (BRV), our 2,000-acre headquarters property in southwest Michigan and the former home of our founders, Ed and Darlene Lowe. The base camps represent our programs. Here is a quick look at how an entrepreneur might climb the BRV mountain:

  • A business wins a Companies to Watch (CTW) award. The owner is invited to BRV for a leadership retreat with other CTW honorees.

  • At the retreat, the entrepreneurs bond and want to continue as a peer-learning group, so we create a six-month PeerSpectives roundtable for them.

  • From the roundtable meetings, we get to know them better and may find they have an issue that our System for Integrated Growth program can address.

  • At this point, they’ve invested about nine months with us and our programs. We know each other well, and we might invite them to be either a mentor or mentee in our American Academy of Entrepreneurs.

  • We might also invite them to an Entrepreneur-in-Residence retreat, which is a three-day VIP experience at BRV for entrepreneurs who have their hair on fire and need time to reflect and recharge.

  • As our entrepreneurs reach this base camp, we have established strong relationships with each other. They often share their hopes and dreams with us, which sometimes include transitioning out of their business. Our Legacy Council program helps them with this shift.

  • The summit of the BRV mountain is becoming an Entrepreneur Emeritus (E2). These entrepreneurs are done with day-to-day business dealings and want to help guide others up the mountain.

The mountain top also illustrates our BHAG: To inspire entrepreneurs to climb the mountain and plant their flag. Once they do so, they can become sherpas for others who are just starting their journey up the mountain. This creates a supportive entrepreneurial community that becomes much bigger than the foundation could ever achieve alone. The folks who scale the mountain become part of our Edward Lowe Foundation family. They add to the impact of our programs in a way we could never imagine. It’s almost magical.

Lastly, the mountain metaphor also ties into our foundation’s heritage.

Mr. Lowe had a soft spot for the mountain explorers who opened the American West. When reading about them, he wrote “I knew I was meeting with blood brothers. I recognized that they were the bona fide entrepreneurs who blazed the trail for the opening of the continent. They did so not with guns and armies, but with their own courage, their own wits and their remarkable individualism.”

Published 1/26/23