As part of the 5th Annual NACCE Conference, The Coleman Foundation and The John E. and Jeanne T. Hughes Charitable Foundation will conduct an elevator grant session to support programs that establish or grow entrepreneurship education in community college settings. The session will provide community colleges with the opportunity to compete for grants of up to $7,500 to fund entrepreneurship projects. The foundations are together targeting approximately 20 awards equaling up to $125,000 in funds.
The elevator grant method is based upon the business planning skill of describing a new business venture in a three-minute pitch that could be given to a potential investor during an elevator ride. Using these same concepts, the foundations have conducted similar sessions for secondary, community college and collegiate educators over the past six years, employing an on-the-spot grant making process to award well-placed, small grants that support entrepreneurship education.
Based on interviews with several NACCE members who received grants in the last round of funding, it’s easy to see how important this funding mechanism is. For example, Jonathan Deutsch, Assistant Professor at Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York said, "The Coleman grant enabled us to reach students in ways that we are unable to with the constraints of the classroom environment. Our entrepreneur in residence brought student businesses from idea to incubator, moved incubator businesses out into the world, and made students realize that being their own boss isn’t a pipe dream or the exclusive domain of the entitled. The project created a palpable energy on campus.”
Indian River Community College in Ft. Pierce, FL, is using its Coleman grant to reach out to businesspeople in Martin and Indian River Counties. According to Associate Dean Jan Pagano, J.D. the College’s Entrepreneur Development Institute, (EDI), in partnership with several other organizations, is hosting 16 "Lunch & Learn” seminars at its various campuses. These 60-minute informative sessions are being held twice monthly and enable local business owners to attend EDI programs during lunchtime without taking critical time away from their busy work.
"We’re having up to 50 to 70 people at each seminar; people are ecstatic that they have an opportunity to learn how to grow their business,” said Pagano. "We’re bringing people on campus who have never been here before, and people love that we’re accessible. We have gotten so many e-mails and so many thank you letters from people who have said this is great. The Coleman grant made it financially feasible to do the program, and we’re very, very appreciative of that.”
A Credibility Builder
Two grant recipients pointed out the importance of the credibility that receiving such a grant can lend to an entrepreneurship project or program. At Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, MI, faculty member Cheryl Davisson Gracie, JD, CPA, RCC is using the Coleman grant to support a Student Enterprise Competition (SEC) that will enable students to plan and evaluate an idea they have for starting a business. "What the grant did for me was to bring recognition to our work, which allowed me to bring in others to become involved in the SEC competition,” she said. "Having Coleman endorse my idea enough to give me a mini-grant was wonderful in getting people to take a look at what we were doing and help. Having to present it gave me something to show to others that was clear and convincing.”
Northern Virginia College in Arlington, VA, is using part of its Coleman grant to draw attention to the new collaborative joint venture it has created with a local non-profit called the Community Development Partnership to develop the College’s entrepreneurship program. "It wasn’t so much the dollar amount because the College is putting up a lot more dollars,” said Robert P. Rogers, Jr., a business leader who serves as Special Assistant to the President on the innovative project. "What it really was about was the Coleman people saying of our proposal, ‘Look this is legitimate; we think this is something that makes sense in entrepreneurship.’ So when I go to talk to all the people inside the college and to business leaders, I can say, ‘Hey, this isn’t a local thing that we cooked up. I took this concept and competed against community colleges all across the country and we won.’”