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Entrepreneurial mindset can exist in many ways and places

Thom Ruhe, Director of Entrepreneurship, The Kauffman Foundation

The term entrepreneur has what I like to refer to as positive brand confusion. For some it conjures up uber geeks like Google founders Brin and Page, or Facebook’s Zuckerberg. For others the impression is one of the local restaurateur, dry cleaning proprietor, or gas station owner. Whereas the opinions range in scale from the billion dollar company to the life style enterprise, most people nevertheless have a positive connotation of what an entrepreneur is.

Where you don’t hear folks attributing entrepreneurial respect is in big or mature companies and in established industries. So it is that I was pleasantly surprised to recently make the acquaintance of Nick Jekogian, CEO of Signature Community; a national consumer real estate brand owned by the New York City based Signature Community Investment Group. They are a landlord; they lease apartments in several states.

Over the past few hard economic years, they realized that their clients were struggling to stay employed and keeping their head above water on paying bills; most notably the rent. Recognizing an opportunity to help their residents, which in turn was good business for them (a true win/win scenario), Nick and his staff implemented some innovative and entrepreneurial thinking.

In October of 2008, they implemented their first program, Signature Cares, which allowed residents to move out (break leases) without penalties if they lost their jobs. As Nick shared with me, it didn’t make sense to kick them when they were already down and pursue expense collection procedures. That program started to pay dividends when former residents did eventually find new employment, many went out of their way to return and lease a Signature Community property.

Later they added the Signature Jobs program. The premise of the jobs program was pretty simple. If a resident fell behind on the rent, they could stop in the office and be assigned a work project to help pay off the rent. Through this program they employed more than 100 residents last summer and it became a win-win for both the residents and the landlord.

The jobs that they trained residents to perform included painting, cleaning, drywall, plaster, office help, accounting, computer consulting, property management and leasing. A number of the residents have gone on to either work for Signature Community or other companies because of the training, experience and even more importantly the self-confidence gained from the program. This program was in no ways a hand-out and many of the residents are now current on rent because of the work they did.

I have to say that this struck me as quite innovative, entrepreneurial, and a plain old fashioned common sense solution to a difficult problem that was threatening their business.

It also shows that an entrepreneurial mindset can exist almost anywhere people are paying attention to problems while working towards solutions. Nick, I commend your creative solution to this problem and I am confident it will pay back dividends many times greater than what it is costing you.

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