With a thriving community of thinkers, doers and makers, the Innovation Quarter’s vibrancy comes from its diversity—a broad mix of creatives, entrepreneurs, scientists, students and executives. Every day is flurry of activity from the Small Business Center Launch Challenge Showcase to Venture Café Winston-Salem’s Thursday Gathering. And there’s one man who’s in the center of it all: Allan Younger, the “de facto mayor” of the Innovation Quarter. As the director of the Forsyth Tech Small Business Center, Younger is seemingly everywhere and keeps his finger on the pulse of our community at large. He mingles with everyone from VIPs to aspiring entrepreneurs and is respected by all. His goal? Building our local community and serving as a hub that helps connect the right people to the right resources.
We sat down with Younger to discover his secrets to success for building meaningful relationships, the value of presence and more.
What’s the value of being present?
The next time I go to Venture Café Winston-Salem’s Thursday Gathering, my name tag will say 93 [having attended that number of Thursday Gatherings] because I believe that in order to build relationships, consistency is key. You need to show up and show up often. When people know about you and know what you do, they’re more likely to introduce you to other people who they think you should know or that should know you.
In fact, I serve as an adjunct professor at three colleges and universities—and all of them have come through relationships. For all of [these professorships], someone said, “Hey, are you interested in this?” That’s because I’m out there in the community, and I’m engaged in relationships—so people believe in my brand.
What about being intentional? Can you tell us how intentionally has served you?
There are a lot of places where I go regularly, not just to be known, but to know what’s going on. For example, I go to the Forsyth County Commissioners meetings. It’s on my calendar every week, and I do my best to go when I can. One reason for going is so that the commissioners know me and what I do—so that if they ever have any constituents who say, “I need help with X, Y, Z,” they’re more likely to think of me. I also go because I want to have a better understanding of how the government works, how decisions are made and how people think.
What other advice do you have for attending networking events or public meetings?
It’s important to be early. When I say early, I don’t mean an hour early. I mean 10-20 minutes, that’s all you need. Like at the commissioners meeting, if you come early, they’ll be there. It’s totally appropriate to walk up to them and say, “Hi, I’m Allan Younger, and I admire your work” or “I appreciate your work.” It’s always good to give a compliment.
What are your tips for being memorable and engaging?
People don’t normally see me sitting over in a corner by myself. People see me engaged with other people or involved in the event someway. When I engage with someone and want them to remember me, I try to say something memorable. A lot of times what’s most memorable to people are things that they said. So, I paraphrase and reinforce the fact that I think it’s important. Everybody wants to know that somebody else thinks that what we do or say is valuable. Some people might call this tactic “kissing up,” but I call it building a relationship.
What are your thoughts on the value of listening?
There’s one client we’ve had for more than 12 years, and she does really well. However, she knows she can be a lot more successful in her business. So, she listens, and she responds to what we tell her. I believe that if you say to people “What do you think about this?” most people are going to say, “Have you ever considered this? Have you ever done that?” Just give your pitch and see how they respond to it. You might find out that what you’re working on is the best of things—or you might find out that it is not great as you think it is. So, when networking with people and building relationships, do so with an open mind so that other people’s truth might benefit you.