Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem


I sometimes refer to spurring entrepreneurial growth as an experience. The table is set, your guests are seated, and entrepreneurship is on the menu. Whether it is your first time or you are highly experienced, it is likely you will taste something new.

It is with this mindset that I encourage community college leaders to keep this curiosity alive and active, to engage and operate through a lens of entrepreneurial discovery, and to think big and boldly in taking your ecosystems to the next levels.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a chapter in the book Community Colleges as Incubators of Innovation: Unleashing Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Communities and Students (Stylus Publishing, 2019) edited by Rebecca Corbin and Ron Thomas. It is reprinted with permission.

I personally believe the future of America will be built around small businesses. This is why providing opportunities to potential employees to fill the 6.2 million jobs that need skilled workers today is of the essence. And, it is important to remember the 10 million jobs created over the next 10 years will need a skilled and vibrant workforce, too.

Whether through the CEI, the Discovery Triangle, building a corporate college or establishing a hub-and-spokes model, making impact across multiple sectors, organizational mission, job creation and promoting a shared vision was — and continues to remain — a priority. Let the following list of key takeaways ignite a new way of thinking onward and upward, and let them be your call to action:

• Be fearless in taking a reality check of your community and addressing what you find. Speak up and address how the community college fits and answers the call.

• Leverage your institution’s reputation and maximize partnerships and resources through new and different collaboration strategies. Do not re-create what is already at your fingertips.

• Ecosystems are bundles of different accelerators, incubators, fab labs, components and other entities. Go beyond just real estate and equity and consider the support and programmatic structures it will take to ensure scalability for your clients.

• Challenge assumptions and think critically about your actions. Do the right things right, and do not be too worried about getting there quickly — meaningless and unintentional activity is not progress.

• Use listening as your mapping tool. Be mindful about what you are hearing and what is actual reality. It is always important to connect back to your college’s mission. If the two are ever disjointed, find the link.

• Run your ecosystem, whether it’s an incubator or corporate college, like a business. Create and develop assessments, tools, benchmarks, goals and objectives. The investment in your people and your culture is critical.

• Embrace and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset; once you plant the seeds, cultivate them and you will see them grow. Timing is everything.

About the Author

Eugene Giovannini
is chancellor of the Tarrant County College District in Texas.
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