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A Model for Community College Entrepreneurship Takes the National State

Thom Ruhe

Lorain County Community College FoundationYesterday, the Kauffman Foundation announced a $1 million grant to Lorain County Community College Foundation, located in Northeast Ohio, to replicate its Innovation Fund model. Founded by the college's Foundation, Innovation Fund connects entrepreneurs to mentorship, education and capital. With the Kauffman grant, the project will go national as “Innovation Fund America” and begin pilots at three community colleges around the country (those have yet to be named).

The Kauffman Foundation is no stranger to Northeast Ohio—another regional export is the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative—and we were well aware of the way in which Lorain County Community College has distinguished itself with a model for combining student internships, mentoring, and seed stage funding, in the service of starting and growing new companies. Since its inception, the Innovation Fund has awarded $5.6 million to 80 early-stage technology-based companies that have gone on to create jobs for the region.

The Innovation Fund’s success in Northeast Ohio, combined with the Kauffman Foundation’s rich history of working with colleges and universities to build entrepreneurship education programs and curricula, made a partnership with LCCC ideal. In our work we have discovered in regions around the country that community colleges are acting as centers for regional ecosystems providing continuing education and professional accreditation, vocational training, and workforce development services. With those dynamic, community-focused institutions embedded in more than 1,200 communities across the United States, the Kauffman Foundation saw a tremendous opportunity to help them employ their resources to support, educate and inspire local residents to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

I am excited to recognize yet another promising activity originating in the area I call home that will help the nation continue toward a healthier economy. And I hold great promise that this partnership will help in the cause. Despite being situated in one of the more economically depressed areas of the state of Ohio, Lorain County Community College, through its Innovation Fund, has had a positive impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Northeast Ohio. For that reason, we believes it’s a model that LCCC and Kauffman should share with regions around the country, and in doing so, we’ll show that community colleges can, with the right resources, be at the center of local, entrepreneur-led economic growth.

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