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Coming Soon To A Community College Near You: A New Mentor For Startups

Jonathan Robinson

Jonathan RobinsonIf you've been paying attention to our work at Kauffman for a while, it should come as no surprise to you that we're committed to making community colleges a front door to entrepreneurship. In particular, we see tremendous potential in these schools to support innovative, high-growth, technology-based startups in their communities, whether their founders are students, researchers, experienced entrepreneurs or full-time professionals preparing to take their first leap into entrepreneurship.

The Innovation Fund America program that we co-founded with Lorain County Community College has been a centerpiece of this effort since we launched the initiative in May of last year. We've made considerable progress on that effort, but that's a subject of another post.

High-quality mentorship is at the very center of our vision for founder education and support at community colleges, and is essential if the college is to be a hub for high-growth, innovative entrepreneurship. Our emphasis on experiential learning, just-in-time educational resources, access to early-stage risk capital, and a finely customizable, individualized education experience for entrepreneurs is incomplete without a highly experienced and qualified mentor to coach startups and bring the best resources to bear in the right situations. In many entrepreneurship support and economic development organizations, large corporations, venture capital funds, and government offices, these individuals hold the title Entrepreneur-in-Residence, or just EIR.

NACCE_Thom1So we were very pleased to announce this week at the annual conference of the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) in Charlotte, NC, a major new program: the Kauffman EIR Program is a pilot with an initial budget of $1 million to bring the very best entrepreneurs as EIRs to 10 community colleges around the country in 2014.

The details of exactly how this program will work --the selection criteria and application process for the host colleges, the job description and requirements for the EIRs, and the process for recruiting the entrepreneurs--will be hammered out over the next few weeks. We do know that the first tranche of five schools will be selected in a closed application process in which eligible community colleges will be invited to apply, and it is likely that we will cast a broader net for round two.

Grants to the successful applicants will take the form of a one-to-one match over two years, and we'll be looking for some guarantee that the program will be sustained beyond that time. The EIR will principally be engaged as a mentor to entrepreneurs within the college's community, and will be equipped to bring a wide variety of Kauffman – and other – entrepreneurship resources to the college. Kauffman will help the colleges identify, vet, recruit and retain some of the best entrepreneurial mentors anywhere. These seasoned founders will be unprecedented assets to the entrepreneurial community, and, given their stature, will help to raise the profile of the community colleges that host them.

We will, in coming weeks and months, announce more details on this program, and while we’re starting small to hone the model, we anticipate that a much broader effort will follow a successful pilot. Stay tuned!

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