As with any new program, when a community college decides to introduce and grow an entrepreneurship education program one of the chief concerns is funding. Even modest program goals require financial support. And many schools have aims that are quite ambitious, such as building entrepreneurial centers, student incubators and more. Where will the money come from?
Fortunately, by its very nature, entrepreneurship education is a strong fundraising lure. Many funding sources understand its value to students who have hopes of starting their own businesses, to local business owners who need access to education and other resources to help them propel their companies forward, and to the broader community as a driver of economic development.
Potential funding sources that find entrepreneurship education appealing include some that previously may not have been on the radar screens of community college fundraisers. "Community colleges expand their donor base by offering entrepreneurship education,” says Tommy Goodrow, NACCE Founder and Vice President of Economic and Business Development at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) in Springfield, MA. "It allows you to reach out to the community to touch the heartstrings of donors who support entrepreneurship education because of their own business success. By embracing entrepreneurship education, you provide the business community and entrepreneurs with a reason to support you with their time, treasure and talent.
"It’s important for any community college that is considering entrepreneurship education to build fundraising into that strategy,” adds Goodrow. "Because it has the potential to bring new funding sources to the table, you don’t have to cannibalize other programs to make your entrepreneurship program grow. When you fundraise for entrepreneurship education, it’s not against yourself; it’s to expand yourself.”
"Entrepreneurship education is a great connect with the community,” says Polly Binns, Executive Director of the Council for Resource Development in Washington, DC. "Most schools get regular support from small businesses in their community; you could always turn to them for an annual gift of $100, $250 or even $500 for the theater program or an athletic program, for example. But when they know that the community college has an academic discipline that supports being an entrepreneur, it is attractive in a different way to them. When they see that you have a program that can help them grow their business or give them skills they need to expand or grow in a different direction, they can be connected in a way that will bring in much bigger gifts.”
Build a Platform for Connecting
The fact that many–or even most–of the entrepreneurs you’ll want to reach out to are not alumni need not be a roadblock. When they were working together to develop funding for the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center at STCC, Tommy Goodrow and Gail Carberry found a creative way to reach out to entrepreneurs from throughout the region with the founding of the Western Massachusetts Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2000. It is a model that can be duplicated at any community colleges campus.
"The thing with entrepreneurs is that they tend to be extremely proud of the efforts they’ve undertaken to create success,” says Gail Carberry, who was STCC’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the time and is now President of Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, MA. "They are not bashful about wanting to share those stories of success, their frustrations and even some of their failures. We began recognizing their accomplishments through the Hall of Fame, inducting five or six entrepreneurs a year and over time there was not one of them who didn’t ante up some substantial funding to help with the Enterprise Center.
"The inductees were excited about the possibility that a college was moving toward creating more entrepreneurs and that valued their experience enough to lay them out as role models to another generation of entrepreneurs,” adds Carberry. "They felt it was something they wanted to invest in. So we found we could build a synergy and relationship with entrepreneurs who weren’t necessarily alumni.”
Another key point to note about entrepreneurs, points out Carberry, is that unlike major corporations, they have the ability to make decisions locally about contributing to an institution. "Our ability to have face-to-face, meaningful conversations with somebody who has resources and who has an interest in entrepreneurial education enables us to build a rapport for fundraising that we wouldn’t necessarily establish with an international company,” she says.
As Polly Binns points out, many entrepreneurship education programs are still in their early years and as they mature, their alumni are sure to play a bigger role in providing funding support. "Community colleges tend to do alumni fundraising programmatically; people are tied to their program, not to their class year,” she says. "Most entrepreneurship education programs are fairly new so the alumni may not have the wherewithal yet to make significant gifts. But as they become successful we’re going to see them turning to their community colleges and helping them.”
Start the Conversation
Last year in his first year as President of River Valley Community College in Claremont, NH, Steve Budd had many of the face-to-face conversations Carberry refers to. He devoted a significant portion of time to identifying and cultivating donors who fit this category. "Much of my first year involved going out and meeting with all sorts of people in the community, and in addition to meeting people from long-term existing businesses, I keyed in on the up-and-coming companies. I sat down with them and told them about the college and our interest in supporting entrepreneurship and looked for opportunities where they could share their expertise. Money was never the first question. I’ve been tapping these folks to come in and do curriculum development since we did not have an entrepreneurial option within our business associates degree program.”
Through carefully laying the groundwork, Budd was able to engage a local computer consulting firm, Red River Computer Company, to spend a semester reviewing the school’s business computing program and looking at trends in business development within the county that River Valley could serve with that curriculum, including providing opportunities for individuals to get involved in computer consulting for small businesses.
"We looked long and hard at what kind of curriculum would serve our students and prepare them to enter this entrepreneurial economy,” says Budd. "After working with Red River for six months, I secured a donation from them of all the hardware and software we needed to implement this new curriculum. So what began as outreach to share their expertise ended up in some real dollars.”
Foundations Are Interested, Too
NACCE members are well aware of how supportive the Kauffman Foundation, the Coleman Foundation and the John E. and Jeanne T. Hughes Foundation have been to a wide variety of schools. But these are not the only private foundations willing to provide significant funding to community colleges who are pursuing ambitious entrepreneurship education programs. We wrote in our Spring 2007 issue about the success that Cayuga Community College in Auburn, NY, has had in attracting funding for the Stardust Institute for Entrepreneurship. The latest news from Thomas Paczkowski, Professor of Business and Economics at Cayuga, is that the First Niagara Foundation has chipped in with a $150,000 grant for continued development of the Institute’s building. This sum is twice as large as the next largest gift the foundation has ever given.
"The Stardust Institute raised our profile and now others are expressing interest in becoming involved,” Paczkowski says. "I think part of the reason for private foundations to be interested in what we’re doing is because the entrepreneurship thinking that is taking place at colleges is consistent with what made the corporation successful that led to the foundation being established in the first place. I think foundations see what we’re doing as an innovative way of thinking and see it as a link to their past in terms of what made the company behind the foundation successful.”
In addition to tapping into private foundation funding, Steve Budd urges community colleges to be creative in pursuing entrepreneurship funding from long-standing government grants programs. "Look at programs such as the Strengthening Institutions Program out of the U.S. Department of Education,” he says. "Under these grants you can make the case that your college will become stronger by focusing curriculum development in entrepreneurship or by developing an entrepreneurial institute. Also, one of the concerns of the National Science Foundation is that technologies that are being developed by individuals aren’t getting to market. So they have a couple of programs that actually have entrepreneurship in their name. These are programs that community colleges have been getting funds from for a long time but not necessarily for entrepreneurship. But the opportunity to get support for your entrepreneurship program is there if you look for it.”
And that seems to be the real lesson about fundraising for entrepreneurship education. The potential is there if you just look for it!