Community colleges spur small business

Students at Houston Community College’s makerspace. (Photo: HCC)

Small businesses drive the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses accounted for 12.7 million (62%) of new jobs created between 1995 and 2020, and 44% of U.S. economic activity in 2021.

Community college entrepreneurship curricula and programs are a driving force for small business creation. The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) is the leading organization promoting entrepreneurship education in the United States.

Colleges are increasingly creating specialized learning spaces for entrepreneurs such as innovation hubs, makerspaces, entrepreneurship centers and more. According to a recent report by the American Association of Community Colleges, 75% of the country’s more than 1,100 community colleges currently have designated spaces on campus where entrepreneurially minded students can hone their business skills.

The work done in these spaces advances economic growth in local communities, particularly when schools forge partnerships with private and public sectors. For instance, NACCE has partnered its member colleges with the Everyday Entrepreneur (EE) program and the Philip E. & Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation, two organizations that provide seed funding to budding entrepreneurs. An impact study conducted by NACCE research fellows from Morgan State University recently reported that nine EE colleges funded 261 businesses, with 338 jobs created and $5.3 million in aggregate revenue generated with a philanthropic investment of $1.2 million.

Building on the success of the EE program, an additional 50 community colleges have joined the program for 2024, each receiving a $5,000 funding award to host a pitch competition.

Fueling local economies

Since the recent start of its “Entrepreneurial College of the Future” (EoCF) program, Patrick & Henry Community College in Martinsville, Virginia, has graduated 314 entrepreneurs, culminating in the creation of 74 new businesses and 270 new jobs with more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind prizes awarded. The college has also expanded its entrepreneurial boot camps with the Martinsville and Henry County Chamber of Commerce and established “MHC Grow,” a four-week program designed for fledgling entrepreneurs. Both programs provide small business owners with the knowledge and skills to succeed.

More than half of the program participants in the EoCF program are women, and in a community comprised of 20% people of color, almost half of the participants are minorities. This has contributed to a surge in women and minority-owned small businesses in the region.

Community colleges also spur pitch competitions. In Iowa, local entrepreneurs participate annually in the Venture Fund competition, sponsored in partnership with North Iowa Area Community College’s John Pappajohn Center and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The winners use $150,000 in cash awards to grow their small businesses and contribute to the local economy.

A call to action

Entrepreneurship is the lynchpin of small business. In addition to providing jobs, small businesses create opportunities for a great number of underrepresented individuals seeking to improve their economic standing. Maker spaces where entrepreneurs explore hands-on skills are continuing to provide new solutions to a wide variety of challenges.

While readily accessible and affordable, community colleges are typically short on budget and long on need; seasoned mentors in business areas are always in demand. Investing in future small business leaders enables them to give back to their communities and keep our economy strong.

About the Author

Rebecca Corbin
Rebecca Corbin, Ed.D., is president and CEO of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.
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