In Collaboration

By Diane Durance, Director at UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

I met Cheryl and Wayne Baker in 2005 when I was President of the Ann Arbor IT Zone. We set up a Reciprocity Ring to spur collaboration among our tech ventures. I was amazed at how well it worked. 

The Reciprocity Ring is a great exercise that teaches everyone why it’s important to ask for help and how to do it effectively. The exercise then gives everyone the chance to practice. After everyone makes a request, people in the same group meet those requests for help. I saw first-hand how powerful it was for founders and leaders to connect in this way.

The Bakers met Adam Grant, author of the bestseller Give and Take when Adam was getting his PhD at Michigan. Adam was one of the first facilitators of the Reciprocity Ring. He’s a fan of the exercise and talks about it in his book. 

In Give and Take, Adam shares powerful research: those who give help at work, are stronger for it and, ultimately, more satisfied and successful.

In his book, All You Have to Do is Ask, Wayne shares his research on asking for help. It turns out that many of the same benefits exist. Askers are happier, healthier and more successful. 

Asking and giving are two sides of the same coin, after all. 

Givitas

When I heard the Bakers were collaborating with Adam Grant to create a knowledge-sharing platform called Givitas, I was eager to implement it with the community I’m working in now, the University of North Carolina Wilmington Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I’ve been a fan of the Bakers’ work ever since I first experienced the Reciprocity Ring more than 15 years ago.

Givitas is a purpose built, knowledge-sharing platform that offers a simple path to give and get help. 

 Here’s why it works:

  1. Givitas is purpose-built to reduce the stigma of asking for help and make it easy to be a giver.
  2. Givitas leverages social science that proves connected, generous groups outperform others in satisfaction, efficiency, and overall business performance.
  3. You don’t have to know who to ask, and the responsibility of generosity is spread across the community with no undue burden on a few givers. Everyone has equal access to mentors and experts.

Here’s what Grant tells us in Give and Take:

The principle of reciprocity isn’t governed by self-interest. In all groups, there are people that act as takers, givers or matchers. Takers are interested in self-advancement, always assessing what others can offer them. Givers prefer to give more than they get and pay more attention to what others might need from them. Matchers try to create an equitable balance between giving and taking. Matchers often consider fairness; when they provide help to others, they expect reciprocity.

The best leaders are givers. Givers focus on what others need from them and endeavour to be generous with their time, knowledge, energy, skills, and ideas. Givers have the ability to create a safe climate where everyone can contribute. This type of environment encourages people to learn and innovate. 

Communities with a giving mentality excel. A strong community of givers will have access to a free flow of information, knowledge, expertise and connection. When groups have more givers, members contribute more and needs and objectives are met more quickly.

Our goal at the CIE was to help entrepreneurs and advisors by providing equal access to the collective intelligence, knowledge, experience, and expertise in our region. Givitas will grow our entrepreneurial community and improve business success. Givitas has delivered on all these goals and more!

Our Experience with Givitas

We have been thrilled with how Givitas has allowed our entrepreneurs, inventors, advisors, and investors to share knowledge and help each other. 

Givitas was useful even before the pandemic, but has proven to be an incredibly valuable resource for our innovation and entrepreneurship community during shut down when people are so much more isolated than usual. We have a lot of business people who have come to North Carolina to ride out the pandemic who are more than willing to offer their advice and expertise. Givitas has enabled them to be connected to the wider entrepreneurial community.

We have a robust monthly mentoring program. For us, Givitas has proven an invaluable way to introduce new mentors and participants to a powerful and effective way of exchanging help with people they might not otherwise get to know. 

What used to happen is that people would call me and ask me if I knew any manufacturers who could help build a prototype, or if I knew investors who might be interested in a specific technology. I was happy to help, but worried that I was a bottleneck. I also realized that while I have great connections in the region, opening these requests up to a broader group would expand the possibilities and potential audience and network. 

Givitas has given people direct access to one another without having to go through me or wait for me to make a connection. 

Some examples of people who have gotten help through our Givitas network: 

  • An entrepreneur looking for a mechanical engineer who was familiar with surfing got introductions to two. 
  • A young social-impact jewelry company got an opportunity with a large department store to sell their jewelry. They needed a temporary fulfillment space with a forklift and fabrication capabilities-but only temporarily. They found it!
  • An arts company got recommendations for hardware they could use to launch a podcast.
  • A podcast host looking for guests got six new guests.
  • An inventor of a construction-related tool found a group of people to serve as product testers and a sounding board. 

These are just a few recent examples of the kind of help being asked for and given in our Givitas group. 

Givitas has been a wonderful way for our entrepreneurs and founders to have access to a wide range of contacts, expertise, resources, and advice. It has enriched our community and our individual and collective success. 

About the UNCW-CIE

The UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) offers programs, services, and activities to promote and support entrepreneurship and the creation of innovative new ventures in Southeastern North Carolina. The CIE is an extension of the university and partners with both public and private organizations to support regional economic development and the creation and growth of innovation-based businesses.

Its mission is to engage and support UNCW students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as students and entrepreneurs throughout the community and region, in the creation of entrepreneurial ventures, knowledge-based jobs, and innovative business solutions. The CIE strategically focuses its activities in areas where regional strengths and university expertise converge – education, health and IT technologies, coastal and marine sciences, and digital arts and media production. The CIE connects high-growth ventures and entrepreneurs with each other, and with the opportunities and resources needed to accelerate their success.

The CIE supports the growth of both campus- and community-based ventures by delivering a diverse range of programs and support services and coordinating its efforts with other entrepreneurial support organizations to maximize impact and reduce duplication of efforts. Located south of main campus at 803 South College Road, the center serves as a visible front door to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

About the Author

Diane Durance, MPA, is director of UNC Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). The CIE is a resource for the start-up and early-stage business community to help diversify the local economy with innovative solutions. For more information, visit www.uncw.edu/cie. 

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