Following are five action steps we believe are crucial for community colleges to advance entrepreneurship in their communities. By signing onto the Pledge, you, as a community college president will show in a high profile way that you are committed to begin delivering on these objectives in the spirit of creating an entrepreneurial culture on your campus and multiple access points to support startups/small businesses in your community. As the first step in the process, identify a "champion” on campus to begin identifying other talent on and off campus to support the following activities.
1. Create or Expand Internal & External Teams Dedicated to Entrepreneurship
INTERNAL - Establish or expand an on-campus team of administrators, faculty, and staff to meet on a regular basis and discuss all activities related to entrepreneurship. Be inclusive in including representatives from every area of campus as you will get your best ideas and entrepreneurial thinking from often overlooked places. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Include individuals from academic programs, workforce development initiatives and continuing education (credit and non-credit).
- Working through your President, engage your Board of Trustees (many may be entrepreneurs) in your commitment to entrepreneurship by discussing these commitments in ongoing board meetings. This clear communication will unleash additional entrepreneurial potential in your community when the Trustees recognize the role of the community colleges in promoting job creation. Working with the Board determine how new relationships can support your efforts.
- Involve your Alumni Office and have a representative added to your internal team to ensure that you are identifying alumni involved in entrepreneurship.
- Initiate conversations using NACCE’s Quick Start Guides and other resources to begin working through these commitments and to continue identifying ways to infuse the culture of your college with entrepreneurship.
EXTERNAL - Identify entrepreneurs and other groups outside of the community college (Universities, SBDC’s, Women’s Business Centers, Chambers, Angel Investors, Economic Development Organizations) that are interested in supporting entrepreneurship in your community. Create an easily navigated landscape of resources available to current or potential entrepreneurs in your community. The internal champion must be committed to including everyone so that all groups are invested in the process. Be sure entrepreneurs are at the table and driving these conversations to ensure relevancy of the activities and resources to the end users. By having all the players in your community identified, you will know best how to leverage each other’s resources.
- Actively cultivate partnerships to identify ways community assets could be better used.
- Map the landscape and have key people from your college attend regular functions to spur startup/small business activity outside the college walls. If there is no such activity present, begin!
- Offer free meeting and conference space to entrepreneurial groups outside of the school within the community
- Work to identify "gaps” and overlaps to most efficiently serve the community.
- Create a community-wide triage point for entrepreneurs. With your community partners, create a ‘Triage Team’’ to meet with new and potential business owners for assessing their needs and identifying businesses with fast growth potential. Not all potential and current entrepreneurs know exactly what their needs are; therefore, a process of key diagnostic questions will reveal likely needs, useful resources and their most appropriate partners.
2. Increase Entrepreneurs’ Engagement in Community Colleges
Entrepreneurs are everywhere. You’ve identified entrepreneurs as part of your external team and now you will want to engage them in your efforts so as to ensure relevancy of your work. Many successful entrepreneurs either attended a community college and/or believe that community colleges are an excellent starting point for an entrepreneur. As identified throughout these commitments, there are multiple access points for current or potential entrepreneurs to engage with the college. Identify, engage, and convene at least five entrepreneurs in your community. These entrepreneurs will then open their networks and you can begin engaging them in a variety of activities. Here are some examples:
- Offering internships to your students
- Advisory Group
- CEO Roundtables
- Invite them to provide input on others ways they may be interested in supporting the college.
3. Engage In Industry Cluster Development
Industry clusters aren’t just a buzzword – they are living ecosystems made up of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers, and aligned institutions, all working together in a particular field in a certain region. Your robust external team must reflect your regions industry clusters, ensuring that community colleges are not only aware of local industry trends, but fueling industry development with highly trained suppliers, providers, and leaders. How can you fuel the fire of entrepreneurship in a particular industry? Many NACCE-member colleges have formed industry-specific advisory groups to ensure that they remain abreast of industry trends and can take proactive measures to remain relevant to the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- Have meaningful dialogues with your state and regional economic development groups and local, similarly aligned organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council, and the SBDC to keep a pulse on local industry trends and use this information to grow your external team to include representatives from existing and up-and-coming fields.
- Create a cluster map of the suppliers, providers, leaders, companies, and aligned institutions and engage them in program development and visioning.
- With your internal and external teams, identify companies, entrepreneurs to ensure relevancy of your industry specific initiatives.
4. Leverage Both Community College and Community Assets to Spur Innovation and Job Creation
The community may view community colleges as open access institutions that are gateways for additional education (transfers to universities) and educating people for "realistic businesses” such as self-employment etc… While this is an important role of the community college, how can their role in spurring entrepreneurial activity in their communities be expanded? What other assets or "access points” does the college possess that could positively impact the rate of entrepreneurship in its community? Think in terms of people (intellectual capital, human capital, skills, expertise, networks, designers, notary, architects), place (space, accelerator, incubator, meet-ups), and things (facilities, equipment, labs).
- ASSESS INVENTORY: Inventory potential common-use facilities, equipment or tools. (Refer to people, place, and things above for ideas). What underutilized capital infrastructure could be offered at no cost to generate good will or "leased” out on an hourly or daily basis? Shared resources of all kinds can fuel startups and job creations by lowering the hurdle for capital investment.
- MAKE ASSETS AVAILABLE: How can community colleges make inventoried assets available to the community and develop a system for sharing costs of those assets. Some items to consider might be liability insurance needs; review programs such as TechShop or FabLabs at community colleges to see how this might be done.
- LEVERAGING COMMUNITY ASSETS: Besides the community college’s own assets, there may be assets in the greater community that can be leveraged. Can these be identified? Open a dialogue with supportive businesses, non-profits, entrepreneurs, and any others you have identified in your communities entrepreneurial ecosystem to determine non-cash resources that can be leveraged as services for the startup/small business community.
5. Create Buzz and Broad Exposure of your College’s Commitment to Entrepreneurship
Letting your community know that you are actively supporting entrepreneurial efforts will be a natural outgrowth of all of the previous commitment activities. There are many additional activities that can bring high visibility to your college so that the community knows you are a proud supporter and friend of the entrepreneurial community. Here are a few specific examples:
- Bring at least one community-wide event to your college this year such as Start-up Weekend.
- Share out your commitments to the local media and NACCE for wide-spread distribution. Use this as an opportunity to publicly "journal” your progress to the outside world.
- Find entrepreneurial success stories within your community and beyond that originated within your college through alumni tracking (this is where your alumni representative on your internal team comes in handy) – then promote these stories with NACCE and other community colleges.
- Share outcomes and best practices from your commitments annually at the NACCE conference and/or through NACCE’s journal, Community College Entrepreneurship.