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A New 'Front Door' for Entrepreneurship?

Mark Marich

Through its new ‘Innovation Fund America’ project, the Kauffman Foundation is betting that community colleges throughout the country can mentor and fund new high-growth startups—driving regional economic growth.

The $1 million partnership with Lorain County Community College Foundation (LCCC) aims to replicate the Ohio community college's successful model. Launched in 2007, LCCC’s Innovation Fund supported high-growth technology entrepreneurs in the historically manufacturing-centered northeast Ohio. In its first five years, the Fund made nearly 100 awards totaling close to $6 million, leading to $62 million in follow-on funding. The self-sustaining program emphasizes founder mentorship, experiential entrepreneurship education and improving access to early stage funding.

The new national project will begin with a pilot in three communities around the country, to be selected in the coming months. Kauffman and LCCC aim to eventually scale the model to more schools around the country and build a national network to support them.

"Despite being situated in one of the more economically depressed areas of the state, Lorain County Community College, through its Innovation Fund, has had a tremendous and positive impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of northeast Ohio," said Thom Ruhe, Kauffman Foundation vice president of entrepreneurship. "We believe it's a model that LCCC and Kauffman should replicate in other regions, and we will show that community colleges can, with the right resources, be at the center of local entrepreneur-led growth."

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