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Coleman Entrepreneurial College in Action

Posted By Joseph Kapp, Monday, January 13, 2014

The Five "Ators" That Hasten Entrepreneurship

At Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College ("EWVCTC”), we serve an expansive geography, covering an area roughly three times the size of Rhode Island. Our service district is home to a very diverse population, including ranchers, farmers, hunters, workers, professionals and commuters. Given the breadth and scope of our population and geography, it is natural that we encounter competing organizations, bureaucracies and interests — any of which could thwart even the best-laid plans and partnerships.

As a result, when it comes to economic development initiatives and entrepreneurship activities, at Eastern we sometimes see ourselves as the proverbial "Switzerland”: a neutral third party whose goal is just to make it happen for the benefit of our service district and larger neighboring region.

To enhance our role as a neutral-broker among often competing interests, we have discovered that operating in the capacity of the following five "ators” roles allows us to promote and propel greater economic development and entrepreneurial activity.

1. Communicate as CollaborATORS

Fundamentally, entrepreneurship and economic development are about bringing people together in collaboration. As welcome and friendly community leaders working with existing programs, foundations and government entities, community colleges can serve as one of the primary community collaborators. Using transparent actions and open language to transcend and dispel past grievances, frustrations and turf wars, community colleges can drive and enhance collaboration. Collaborating with local business leaders to go beyond traditional workforce development programs, community colleges can assist in identifying the array of financing programs available to energize these businesses’ growth. And by bringing new and emerging business owners to the table, and introducing them to potential mentors and business development resources, collaboration helps develop the community’s future business leaders.

Action Item: Create an entrepreneurship and economic development round-table. Bring together for regular meetings, conferences and networking:

  • New and established business owners;
  • Local, state and Federal government economic development; and
  • Grant making and money lending institutions including foundations and banks.

2. Function as FacilitATORS

As facilitators, community colleges can serve as gentle catalysts and unifying agents to mobilize economic growth and entrepreneurship activities. This is particularly true for rural communities that may have limited access to resources. In addition, where everyone has busy schedules and heavy workloads, taking care of organizational details such as arranging meetings, developing agendas, providing meeting spaces and coordinating activities, can serve an important function in bringing communities members together to drive entrepreneurship.

Action Item: Take your role as a collaborator to the next step by facilitating entrepreneurship and economic development. Develop agendas and calendars, and provide much needed meeting spaces to facilitate the entrepreneurship and economic development activities.

3. Assemble as information as AggregATORS

These are many questions new or existing business owners may have, but are not sure where to find the answers: Where do I obtain funding? What are permitting or licensing fees? How can I obtain a small business loan? Where should I locate my business? These are just a few examples, and often the answer to any of these questions may be scattered across a host of organizations. Community colleges, collaborating with other agencies, organizations and foundations, can provide a "one-stop-shop” for business information, access to capital and resources, etc. In doing so, business owners, new and existing, will come to view the community college as a valuable partner in the development of their enterprise.

Action Item: The natural outcome of serving as collaborators and facilitators is that the community colleges will naturally come to be seen as an aggregator of economic development and entrepreneurship resources. Developing a virtual library of resources and directory of the various organizations with which your community college partners, will enhance your college’s role as an aggregator of economic development and entrepreneurship activities.

4. Incite IncubATORS and AccelerATORS

When starting or expanding a business, new and existing business owners consider three important inputs: costs, risks and time. To the extent that community colleges reduce any or all of these inputs, businesses will benefit. Community colleges that start and run incubators and accelerators, can help drive substantive business activities by reducing costs, risks and time.

Action Item: Develop programs, workshops and events that drive innovation. From formal programs and dedicated places to mobile and virtual spaces, identify opportunities to help businesses get off the ground.

5. Excel in as EducATORS

For entrepreneurs to thrive in community college settings, education must go beyond traditional methods and formula. By its very nature, entrepreneurship is a pure meritocracy, that refuses to adhere to titles, certificates or degrees traditionally lauded in academic settings. The community colleges are the perfect place for entrepreneurship to thrive, but only if we can put to one side those traditional notions that accolades are the end all and be all. Entrepreneurs care about building successful enterprises, and so are less concerned with the academic credentials or honors that follow their names.

Action Item: Encourage a culture of entrepreneurship within your college. Bring together professors and employees who already own or are thinking of starting a business, and encourage a sharing of ideas for regular meetings to increase an entrepreneurial school mindset. Similarly, be mindful that obtaining a paper certificate or good grades may not be the purpose of entrepreneurs: that the development of a successful, sustainable business is more likely the end goal. As such, community colleges should develop classes, programs and curricula to reflect this reality.

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