During a sluggish economic recovery, community colleges have emerged as important engines for entrepreneurial activity and job creation. An innovative new program, created and proven in a community college in northeastern Ohio, is hitting the road to help schools and the communities they serve to launch and grow technology-based startups.
Innovation Fund America (IFA), a 501(c)3 partnership between Lorain County Community College (LCCC) in Elyria, Ohio, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, has selected Long Beach (Calif.) Community College, Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan., and Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, N.C., as the first schools to pilot its program that invests in, mentors and motivates high-growth entrepreneurs.
With a shared vision for democratizing technology-based entrepreneurship, IFA partners aim to make community colleges a front door for entrepreneurship across the country.
In May of 2012, the Kauffman Foundation made a grant of $1 million to fund the creation of the IFA organization and is working with LCCC to replicate nationally the successful Innovation Fund model for mentoring and funding high-growth startups, especially first-time founders, that has seen considerable success in spurring sustainable economic growth in northeast Ohio, a hard-hit region dominated by manufacturing.
Launched by the LCCC Foundation in 2007, the Innovation Fund offers vital support to new and young firms through pre-seed-stage access to capital for proof of concept, intensive coaching and mentoring, and education and internship opportunities. To date, LCCC's Innovation Fund has invested $6.5 million in 94 companies that have created more than 300 jobs, provided more than 150 paid internships, generated $17 million in revenue, and raised $71 million in follow-on funding.
Upon announcing the program expansion in May, IFA received applications from community colleges across the United States. The three pilot schools were selected after several rounds of interviews, site visits and study of entrepreneurs' needs in each community. IFA seeks to prove the viability of its model in the pilot sites before expanding the program to additional community college campuses nationwide.