Profile of National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship

Long Beach City College is no more a traditional community college than the RMS Queen Mary docked a few miles from campus is a typical ship.

The school has moved on from workforce training and development to become a vital economic engine in Greater Los Angeles and an entrepreneurial institution in its own right.

The school hosts Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and a U.S Small Business Administration Small Business Development Center and has started a fund to offer grants and loans to startups.

Long Beach CC is held up as an example by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, an organization formed to help two-year schools embrace entrepreneurship and spread it into the communities they serve.

“Our vision is to create economic vitality through entrepreneurship,” said NACCE President and CEO Heather Van Sickle. “And the mission is to do this by getting at the culture and getting the entrepreneurial mindset embedded in the culture of the community college so they can be vehicles for economic vitality.”    

To achieve that, colleges sometimes have to change leadership as well as curricula, Van Sickle said.

“When we started, a lot of colleges, and even individuals in the community, viewed entrepreneurship as a cute little program and probably something we should offer to students. But it didn’t seem critical or necessary,” she said.

The Great Recession made it clear that community colleges need to do more than train students for jobs that didn’t exist — they had to teach students to become entrepreneurs and work closely with business to ensure student supply matches employer demand.

NACCE helps colleges make the transition through a variety of programs and services, including curriculum, conferences, professional development, grants, a list-serv, webinars and other resources.           

Founded in 2002 in Springfield, Mass., NACCE has about 300 members, less than a third of the eligible institutions in the country, a figure Van Sickle is unhappy with. She attributed that to a number of things, including the $750 annual dues, poor salesmanship by the group, a low profile, a college accreditation and funding system based on enrollment and graduation more than competency and job creation, and administrators’ reluctance to embrace entrepreneurship.

“Some of the leaders at the colleges are ahead of the curve and they love that challenge. Other institutions are led by academics and they may want to do something, but they haven’t been trained that way,” Van Sickle said, adding, “It’s either they’re going to go with the creative destruction or they’re going to be part of it.”

Below are two community colleges that have made entrepreneurship central to their mission:

Long Beach City College

For Long Beach City College, south of Los Angeles, the economic development light came on 10 years ago.

“We were training people and trying to place them in jobs, but we didn’t have access to the right kind of high-paying jobs we wanted to link our workforce training to. We knew we should get into the business of supporting businesses regionally and locally so we could ensure they were competitive and they could create jobs for our students and the people we were training for the workforce,” said Lou Anne Bynum, executive vice president, college advancement and economic development.

The college began with small training and business development contracts with local government and in 2005 was named a federal Small Business Development Center, serving three counties with 10 neighborhood centers. Goldman Sachs then chose Long Beach as the second host for 10,000 Small Businesses, a program that offers entrepreneurs education, capital and advice and technical assistance.

It partnered with the Kauffman Foundation this year to launch the Innovation Fund So Cal, which offers startups coaching and mentoring, as well as access to pre-seed stage capital through grants and no-interest loans. Through its various programs, Long Beach serves about 4,000 businesses a year.

“We are probably one of the most active economic developers in our city,” said Bynum.

Shenui Weber, executive director of economic development at Long Beach, said the biggest challenge has been assembling the right teams of mentors and advisors across a broad range of industries for each of the entrepreneurial programs.

The college works closely with local economic development agencies and industry groups to ensure that it is in tune with the needs of local businesses. The skills community colleges develop in workforce training translate well into the economic development field, said Bynum.

Patrick Henry Community College

On the other side of the country from Long Beach City College, in Martinsville, Va., is Patrick Henry Community College. It’s one-tenth the size of the California school and serves a vastly different community, but its new president, Angeline Godwin, is singled out by Van Sickle as the kind of leader community colleges need.

Godwin, an entrepreneur who has worked in economic development as well as academia, has a broader perspective and experience than someone who has worked only in higher education, Van Sickle said. 

Martinsville, near the North Carolina border, is best known for the Martinsville Speedway, the original NASCAR track. The city has some of the highest unemployment in Virginia, a result of the decline of the textile, furniture and tobacco industries on which it was built.

So it’s crucial to the local economy that the college do all it can to spur startups. Godwin said. Patrick Henry, where students can earn an associate’s degree in entrepreneurship, offers the usual workforce training, as well as a nod to its NASCAR base in the form of a motorsports program.

The 3,100-student college has a digital fabrication laboratory and also operates an off-campus Artisan Center that trains students in a variety of crafts, including woodworking, jewelry making and culinary arts. Godwin is adding a course in the manufacture of traditional mountain music instruments and holding a Maker’s Fair in May.

During her 21 months on the job, Godwin has been reaching out to local industry and economic development officials, making them aware of what Patrick Henry offers and determining what the community needs. Self-employment is not uncommon in Martinsville, she said, but the community has to view entrepreneurship, not as a stopgap, but as a means to economic self-sufficiency.

“It does have an entrepreneurial DNA,” she said. “Our job is to revitalize it so we don’t have to wait for the next factory to open. If we can hit a tipping point, we can have a dramatic impact.”

NACCE looks ahead

NACCE is stepping up its membership recruitment, an area in which Van Sickle said the group has not done enough.

“We’re scoping out who are our members, who aren’t our members, how we can use our members to call other members,” she said. “We’re only 10 years old in this space, and even though we’re known in some ways, there are still people who say, ‘I never knew this organization existed.’”

A number of emerging trends will continue to define entrepreneurship education in community colleges, she said, notably the move toward competency-based education and credentialing. That should help those schools that have integrated entrepreneurship, she said, because it builds on what they’re already doing in preparing students to think entrepreneurially.

Looking ahead, Van Sickle said she hopes NACCE can help unify the academic and workforce development programs at member schools.

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