November 17, 2021

CannonDesign’s Inclusive Partner Program Catalyzes XBE Growth, Impact and Reach

It’s true what they say you know, “it takes a village” to build a community. And that truth echoes especially loud in the world of design. The team it takes to shape a unique, diverse building, space or strategy requires all different perspectives, visions and dreams. That’s one of many key reasons in the summer of 2021, CannonDesign launched the Inclusive Partner Program (IPP).

The IPP empowers XBE firms to build strong, mutually beneficial relationships with design peers to deliver more impact across the design industry. It goes beyond typical XBE programs — which are often focused on meeting a client or project-specific requirement — by creating deep-rooted relationships. It’s a program that allows XBE firms to ask questions, build new networks, share insights, hear about lessons learned and fuel their organizations.

“This couldn’t just be a check-the-box program,” said Cindy Bambini, our manager of the IPP and our St. Louis business development leader. “We built something that is different, so firms understand we value them as partners, and we treat them as equals.”

A key piece of the IPP is the CannonDesign Collective, a virtual, 12-week learning experience that goes beyond a standard meet and greet. The program offers the chance for businesses to share opportunities, foster greater equity, spark genuine collaboration, and provide fulfilling experiences that leave everyone empowered.

As one might imagine, the IPP and CannonDesign Collective were designed in an inclusive fashion. Looking to build this program and define the curriculum, Bambini and her team met with XBE firms to hear their perspectives about what would benefit their firms. One of those early partners was DTLS, a woman-owned landscape architecture practice based in St. Louis.

Michelle Ohle is one of the principals at DTLS. In helping our team shape the IPP curriculum, she talked about common issues small and minority-owned businesses encounter, for example, timeliness, payroll and more. All those factors were given thought when designing the program.


“We saw a huge gap in the market,” said Ohle. “There were some traditionally owned practices in the city, and they did some pretty good stuff, but it all started to look the same. And, we don’t have projects that look the same because we don’t look the same.”

Another XBE partner that helped inspire the CannonDesign team is T.I.E Consulting Engineers. Owner, Cheryl Stoddard, started her woman-owned company back in March 2019. She built a relationship with Bambini and started partnering with CannonDesign on projects. In fact, T.I.E. is now a partner on BJC Healthcare’s transformative new 16-story patient tower.

T.I.E Engineering

“I credit CannonDesign as a catalyst for our business’s growth today. They were willing to give us a chance, which turned into a large project award that we could add to our resume,” said Stoddard. “And it helped us win other healthcare and higher academic projects. We have been able to grow from two people to eight because of CannonDesign’s program and inclusion.”

For Bambini and her team, that’s music to their ears.

“By no measure is the IPP about big mighty CannonDesign coming in and telling these small businesses what they can learn from us. It’s all about how we can empower and learn from each other,” Bambini explains.       

Another perspective comes from an original CannonDesign Collective partner BranchPattern, a minority-owned building consultancy. On building projects, they focus on sustainability consulting, commissioning and MEPT Engineering.

“During the program, there was a thread that continued through all the courses. It was about doing better: in design, in the delivery of services, and how we can be more representative of those communities that we serve,” said Stuart Shell with BranchPattern. “I felt like those themes emerged.”

“Just getting the knowledge from a peer organization in a smaller group setting provides continuing education and professional development. The program absolutely was that” said Rick Maniktala, President of BranchPattern.

For DTLS and BranchPattern, each organization learned a lot from the program, and they are thankful it allowed other team members to join in a session based on their expertise or role in their firm.

“I think what I and DTLS took away from the CannonDesign Collective process was the feeling of being heard,” said Ohle. “The sessions we got the most data from were the client panels where we could hear directly from the horse’s mouth. It was nice that CannonDesign brought in so many different people for us to meet and learn from.”

Just like the IPP program, T.I.E Engineering is all about paying it forward. They mentor future female engineers by showing them the ins and outs of technology. Stoddard said the partnership her business has developed with CannonDesign has opened many doors.

“It is truly a mindful collaboration and if anything, I would say CannonDesign has accelerated this firms’ growth and success. We’re on track to do $2.5 million in revenue over the next 18 months, that is big for a small startup,” said Stoddard. “My advice to small businesses is to take a look at the goal and objectives of some of these firms out there that are getting the work and then build relationships. I believe CannonDesign has removed many obstacles for us.”

BranchPattern team

“We’re building teams more reflective of the communities of our society,” said Bambini. “We’re thrilled with the first step the IPP has taken and we’re excited to grow it further. It can be a catalyst for empowerment, equity, shifting perspectives and so much more.”

More information about the Inclusive Partner Program can be found here. Our team plans to initiate the second installment of the Collective next spring. Reach out to Cindy Bambini for more information.