If you can learn one key bit of information from Ed DeJesus, grasp his main axiom: networking by making the acquaintance of anyone and everyone doesn’t really work.
What does work, according to the founder of Social Capital Builders, a resident company at the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s Maryland Innovation Center, is focusing on a smaller base of “more effective contacts in the right places and nurturing those relationships.
The concept of social capital means offering and building value,” said DeJesus, who feels “that’s how self-marketers can achieve better results.”
That’s the focus of DeJesus, not only within the general business world, but particularly with disadvantaged individuals. In December, SCB started a new program, called Opportunity Connections, to provide social capital training to a group of people in New York who are disconnected from school and work opportunities.
SCB is working with New York-based Youth Action Youth Build and received funding from Capital One for the 24-week initiative. Its aim is to give the class of 18- to 26-year-old participants skills and tools to create well-supported career paths.
DeJesus founded the company five years ago to help schools and career development programs to build social capital to support skills development, as well as mitigate systemic racism and connect youth with advocates in various industries. To date, SCB has assisted more than 1,200 job seekers and students.
But none of that happens, he stressed, unless connections are made using effective techniques.
“We’ve all collected business cards at networking events and never done anything with them,” DeJesus said, “but all a person really needs is 15-20 real connections to help make their business a success. What’s really important is teaching people about social networks and how they work, and helping them identify their flows of information.”
That’s more important than ever. For instance, a recent study by the Opportunity Project, written by Raj Chetty of Harvard University, shows that social capital created across class lines is a major driver of economic opportunity even more than quality of schooling and parental income.
“What social capital is really about,” DeJesus, he said, is “the value of connection. When you have diversity, you have non-redundancy in your network. There are still many people around the region who don’t fully comprehend that idea, even though Columbia is based on diversity. That’s why this effort coming out of the MIC just makes sense.”
DeJesus is “equipping our students with some very useful skills,” said Robert Taylor, executive director with New York-based YAYB, “because we work with a population of young people who normally lack a conduit to useful information on how best to connect to networks that they can leverage for their next opportunity.”
But now a conduit exists due to the Capital One partnership, which is giving SCB a new option to test its model among low-income, non-high school graduates who are underemployed or unemployed.
“Our students, for whatever reason, did not navigate traditional avenues to education and are trying to restart,” said Taylor, “and with the tools being taught by SCB, we’re presenting an opportunity to inoculate them to a better future.”
Kondi Walters-Smith, owner of Columbia-based Proactive Wellness NP, was a student of SCB and said the program has heightened her confidence while growing her business.
“Ed helps you connect with networkers and points out what’s already in your tool kit concerning your social capital,” said Walters-Smith, “such as recognizing resources that you have at your fingertips and asking the people you’ve known for years for advice, as well as uniting your strong ties and building a strong network.
“The SCB experience is one that will forever be with me,” she said, because “it has totally transformed my outlook and perspective as an entrepreneur.”
With SCB’s model ensconced in working with the disadvantaged, its residence at the MIC has much to do with expansion of the program so it can benefit from the wider market. And that, said Chuck Bubeck, executive director of the MIC, is why management wanted him as a member entrepreneur.
“We see his approach as a disruptive program. That’s what we want here,” Bubeck said, “because we see that such innovators have the potential to be game changers who can make an impact around the globe.”
And in this case, the impact will be felt in the gainful employment of SCB’s growing diversity of students.
“We consider that up to 80% (according to CNBC) of jobs are in the hidden market,” said DeJesus, “so ask to offer the people in your network an update on your progress. Know that it helps to be a giver.”