Key to building a professional support network for your FIRST team or program, is connecting with the local area businesses and professionals who can provide mentoring, coaching and sponsorship support. While informal outreach events can help make some of those connections, hosting a formal FIRST Meet & Greet in your community.
A FIRST Meet & Greet can be small and personal, with one or two potential sponsors, an open house type event, or a gala type event. The intent is to present FIRST in general, and area teams specifically, at a high level to community business leaders to help them understand why supporting FIRST is not just good for your team, but good for their business and for local economic development.
FIRST is a STEM education program that uses robot challenges to build science and technology skills and interests for youth ages 6 to 18, in a character driven program designed to inspire self-confidence, leadership, and life skills . With support from a bunch of generous Fortune 500 corporations, educational and professional institutions, foundations, and individuals, FIRST provides more than $22 million in college scholarships to high school kids in the program, and serves over 400,000 students in 80 countries. The suite of programs includes FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC® ) for students in Grades 9-12; FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC® ) for Grades 7-12; FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL® ) for Grades 4-8; and Junior FIRST® LEGO®League (Jr.FLL®) for Grades K-3. Visit USFIRST.org for more information nationally.
- How to Start a FIRST Team
- Community Networking for FIRST Teams
- Competition Readiness for FIRST Teams
- FIRST Mentoring: Volunteering with Impact
- FIRST Teams Guide to Effective Outreach
- Hosting a FIRST Meet & Greet
- How to #MakeItLoud for FIRST
Step 1: What You'll Need
- A team or teams -You can do a Meet & Greet just for your team, or for FIRST in your area, with a few teams. You'll also need:
- A good location - a school is okay, but if you can work with your mentors or existing sponsors to find a location more associated with business or the professional community, like a cowork space, a local business club, or small business administration facility, that's even better, because it sets that high level professional tone you want to try to achieve
- Business Guests - we'll show you how to find them
- Food - it doesn't have to be a big fancy spread- although it certainly can be - but some light foods and refreshments make for a friendly, and welcoming ambience
- Presentation (s)- An introductory presentation about FIRST, and then 10-15 minute presentations for each participating team, preferably with some robot demos
- Hand out materials - about FIRST and about your teams
- An "Ask" - Make sure you know what you're asking of your guests, and that you convey that clearly at the event - in-kind support, mentors (what kind? CAD, programming, mechanical engineering, web design, etc.) , fiscal support (how much and for what?)
- A Follow Up - Be prepared to keep in touch with your new contacts
A reasonable event planning timeline is:
- 3 months out: Identify Planning team, meeting location, decide on Meet & Greet format, create invitations for both teams and businesses
- 2 months out: Identify area businesses and begin sending out invitations
- 1 month out: follow up with teams and businesses
- 2 weeks out: follow up again!
- 1 week out: confirm food, send reminder with directions to all participants, remind teams about best practices for a business event – prepare media/guest packages – FIRST folder with national and local info, stickers, bling if desired
Step 2: Googling Your Guests
If you already have a solid business contacts list of people you want to introduce to FIRST, this is a great way to do that. If you don’t but want to start building that list, hie thee to Google Maps, then:
- Find a central address – Your meeting location is a good place to start, since then distance won’t be a factor to potential supporters
- Use the “search nearby” feature to search on keywords like “engineering” “manufacturing” “software” “programming” “web development” – etc.
- Drill down – on each potential business, click on the listing, explore the company website and find contact information. Sometimes you’ll have to use a form, sometimes you can find a contact email.
- Grab the info, and add to your list for future reference.
Step 3: Send Your Invitations
Providing you've secured your location and date, of course, send out your invites! Put together a flyer using the STEM calls to action that your community will recognize - that may include things like “economic development” – “high tech workforce” , etc. You can use FIRST Impact materials and information from organizations like Change the Equation, that provide comprehensive facts and figures about STEM careers and academics.
Your invitation shouldn't be more than a page long, but it needs to have impact. Follow up every other week or so up to a week before your event. Respond to every response, even those that are RSVPs in the negative. Be sure to provide dates and locations for other opportunities to see and meet teams – kick offs, off seasons, outreach events. Don’t be discouraged if response is low the first time around – at the very least, you have a new list of potential supporters you can invite to everything going forward.
Step 4: Dress and Present for Success
Make sure team members come prepared with:
- Appropriate dress – business casual at minimum; team shirts are okay, depending on the event, but you may want to dress it up a bit for this one. At the very least, avoid shorts, and cargo pants
- Robot Flyers or business cards
- Elevator speech or a short presentation
- The “Ask” – What do you need? You might want to start with a request for mentoring support, which often inspires financial support in the process
Step 5: Prepare the Spread
Set up your spread - it can be a deli spread or a full buffet. Put some of your handout and informational materials with your food. Brand everywhere you can!
Step 6: Meet & Greet Agenda
A good event length is 1 ½ to 2 hours. A suggested agenda:
- Light Food and Refreshments, first 30 min.
- FIRST film – the “FIRST- We Got That” film is a good opener, followed by a short overview of FIRST
- 10-15 min. presentations by local teams, depending on how many are participating –
- Q&A after each team presentation, or at the end - whatever seems most appropriate for your event
- 30 – minute Mingle – with teams providing guests opportunities to examine or drive robot and look at team materials
Step 7: Thank Your Guests & Build Relationships Year Round
Be sure to send everyone who was at your event a personal thank you for attending your Meet & Greet. Then continue building on the relationships you started at the event by sending out periodic updates about your team(s), invitations to kick-offs, meets, tournaments, off seasons, and outreach events.
You don't want to produce junk mail that will be ignored, but short quarterly updates with calls to action, or participation - to see an event, help mentor, or attend a fundraiser - are all within reason and will be understood by businesses who engage in similar marketing efforts for their companies.
Have fun, and Go Team!