Michael Ioffe, a high school senior in Portland, Oregon, wants to study business in college. He’s interested in finance and architecture, and hopes to work in affordable housing someday. But on the way to fulfilling those dreams, Ioffe ran into an early snag. He had his eye on a business camp that he couldn’t afford.
Though he ultimately earned a scholarship to attend the camp, Ioffe’s eyes were opened to the difficulty many have in accessing quality educational resources, particularly for young people pursuing business. So he came up with a solution, at least in his hometown: a speaker series in which he invited local business leaders and entrepreneurs to give talks.
One whirlwind year later, he’s now the founder and executive director of Talks on Innovation, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship (TILE), a nonprofit speaker series with 57 chapters in 12 countries — operating on a budget of just $500 a year.
“I realized that this was a need within the community,” he says. “Students weren’t receiving the enrichment opportunities that they needed. And this is a void that exists not just in Portland but around the world.”
A SPEAKER SERIES IN PORTLAND
Ioffe wanted a low-cost, low-commitment way for students to bridge what he calls the “resource gap.” Many nonprofits are limited because they don’t have enough money, he says, and many students don’t have the cash to sign up for extracurricular activities and may not want to commit more than a few hours at a time.
He hoped a volunteer-based speaker series could circumvent those barriers, and allow more students to receive potentially life-changing advice, insights, and inspiration at an early age.
The Portland events was called the Stumptown Speaker Series. He enlisted Cloudability’s Mat Ellis, Zoom+’s Dr. Dave Sanders, and many other entrepreneurs for talks. The events were hosted once a month, and over the course of a year, Ioffe says around 500 students attended the events – from high schoolers hoping to study business in college to college graduates hoping to pursue MBAs.
It was a lot of work to set up, but once Ioffe had a system in place, he says he realized his template could work in practically any city in the world – anywhere that business leaders are willing to speak. So he decided to give the template away.
A SHAREABLE TEMPLATE
The TILE model is meant to streamline the process of setting up and operating a speaker series. At TileTalks.co, students interested in starting speaker events can submit their names and email addresses. Ioffe will make sure there isn’t already a TILE chapter in the area and he’ll vet the potential chapter leader. His only hard rules are that the chapter leader must be a student, and the speaker events must be free.
“We look for students who are passionate about what we’re doing on a broader level,” he says. “And also students who are ambitious and who will do the work. It’s no easy task, but it’s a commitment that will help the community.”
If everything’s in order, he’ll send over the TILE manual for free. Chapter leaders still have to find the speakers themselves, but the manual provides benchmarks, processes, and case studies, all based on Ioffe’s experience starting a series from scratch.
Now that the Portland chapter is in it’s second season, Ioffe says they’re able to share what they learned the first time around, and they’ll continue to update the manual as they go.
“The manual has a pretty comprehensive description of how to start a speaker series,” he says. “We also have a support team, so if a TILE chapter leader ever has a question, we reply to them within 24 hours – which provides a sense of security as well.”
But for the most part, he says TILE chapter leaders don’t contact him with too many questions. He’s only involved in the setup. After that, it’s pretty hands off.