When it comes to improving their companies, business owners and executives look to Colorado State University for expertise in areas such as training, management and organizational development. Until recently, however, finding just the right expert to meet a specific business’ needs could be difficult.
That was before Ascend, an initiative designed to connect the wealth of resources at CSU to local businesses and nonprofits. Ascend navigates access to experts across the entire university to help clients develop capable, connected and healthy organizations – a program unlike anything else in the nation.
Jeremy Podany, director of Ascend, explains the philosophy behind this “concierge service”: “We knew organizations wanted to take advantage of a multitude of educational services, depending on their needs. We went from prepackaged programs to ‘How can we help you?’ I think organizations love that they can get custom education and training from CSU.”
Ascend offerings are designed to fully develop and engage employees, from entry level to top leadership. Programs are provided through a network of partnerships with faculty, staff, departments and the CSU community, including the College of Business, Kendell Anderson Nutrition Center, Athletics, Scenario Planning Institute, University Center for the Arts, Career Center, CSU Online, and many more.
Access to all of these services is part of an affiliate membership in Ascend, which costs $1,500 a year. With that comes personal service from the staff to connect the organization to resources available anywhere in the CSU community.
Membership also opens doors to:
- Access to purchase all Ascend services to build a customized bundle based on the organization’s unique training, wellness, and connection goals.
- An online survey to collect baseline data and to create a snapshot of the overall health of the organization.
- Top-level networking between C-Suite and VP-level leadership, to connect with other leaders to enhance their professional network.
- Access to strategic research and development meetings to connect to CSU research important to the organization.
The assortment and level of services in the custom bundle determines how much a client pays Ascend.
Recent proposals have ranged from $3,700 to $1.5 million, according to Arthur Sintas, head of business development for Ascend.
“Our charge is to be self-funded, and we’re working toward that,” Sintas said. “We’re not base-funded, we’re not taking money from student tuition, it’s all fee-for-service. That’s a valuable piece because you don’t necessarily see that. We’re one of the few auxiliaries that basically operate off what we bring in.”
The Ascend business model includes paying faculty and staff experts for their time, he added. “We’re not asking them to work on Ascend projects in their spare time or between classes. We contract with them to act as an expert for our clients, who were looking to work with them in the first place.”
Ascend also honors the university’s land-grant mission by offering reduced memberships to nonprofits looking to improve their operations. Foothills Gateway and the Food Bank for Larimer County have both used the services of Ascend and more nonprofits are being added this spring.
Seed money from Board of Governors
Since launching in January 2014 with $500,000 in seed money from the Colorado State University System Venture Capital Fund sponsored by the CSU Board of Governors, Ascend has worked with nearly two dozen clients. They have ranged in size from local coffee company The Human Bean and the Food Bank to the Denver Art Museum, Arrow Electronics, and Columbine Health Systems; Ascend’s services have run the gamut from a comprehensive assessment to develop a deeper understanding of the organization’s culture to finding researchers to create a plan to care for every tree on the Fort Collins Country Club golf course.
Country Club general manager Scott Szymoniak has been working with Ascend since its initial launch, and is happy with the progress of the tree project, which he said saved him time and money. “We brought the idea to the team at Ascend, and they did all the work in going to the CSU Forest Service and putting it all together.”
But it’s not just about the trees. As part of his package, Szymoniak receives on-site speakers, an organizational assessment, and other services from Ascend. He added that the program has also helped solidify the club’s relationship with the hospitality management program at CSU.
By July, Podany and Sintas expect to have returned the initial seed investment to the university, and are
already developing ways to take Ascend to the next level.
Some of the ideas on the table include hosting a leadership conference for nonprofit executive directors on campus next year, and hiring a full-time staffer to work exclusively with nonprofits.
“We’re looking to grow, thinking about new revenue streams,” Sintas said. “We’re also looking to connect with other experts on campus who can add their knowledge to the range of services we can offer our clients as the best of Colorado State.”
Companies interested in becoming affiliate members and working with Ascend should email Thomas Cox who manages the development of executive partnerships for Ascend.
CSU departments, faculty, and staff interested in developing partnerships with Ascend should contact Arthur Sintas to learn more about how the program works.