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2010 October 4 - 12:00 am

POV: Forging Strategic Partnerships with Businesses Can Advance Entrepreneurial Learning

Entrepreneurship and small business growth are always hot topics in communities across the U.S., but never more so than in the wake of the recession. Community colleges can take a leadership role in local economic development by providing educational opportunities – both credit and credit-free – that give would be entrepreneurs and the owners of existing small businesses the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

But these programs would be significantly more robust if they included strategic partnerships with entrepreneurial companies in your community that have a vested interest both in working with your institution and in seeing the local business community grow.

Many schools already have built alliances around the issue of economic development with governmental entities and community development corporations. Many colleges also work closely with business groups such as the Small Business Development Centers and chambers of commerce. And quite frequently, local entrepreneurs are invited on campus to speak to entrepreneurship classes or workshops.

But few schools have tapped deeply into the huge potential offered by building mutually beneficial alliances with entrepreneurial companies. Such alliances could significantly extend and enrich your entrepreneurship education program, making the concept of entrepreneurship come alive for students. Out of this would grow an increased potential for economic growth in your community when those students either start their own businesses or enter the workforce armed with the types of entrepreneurial skills and know-how that employers crave.

Strategic partnerships are most successful when each partner has a vested interest in achieving a successful outcome. We’ve already delineated a few of the potential benefits your institution could obtain from having strategic partnerships with entrepreneurial companies. But what is in it for the entrepreneurs? That’s a big question you will need to answer before approaching any potential partners. This may require some out-of-the-box thinking, but here are just a few potential answers to that key question:

For companies interested in developing new products and services, a community college could serve as a new product development lab, where students give feedback on product concepts and perhaps serve as beta testers. Just think of how being exposed to how companies actually go through the product development process would enrich the entrepreneurial learning of your students, while at the time providing the partner company with a very valuable source of market research.

Such a relationship may be particularly attractive to technology companies. An added benefit for your school of these private/public partnership is early access to leading-edge technologies that, in some instances, could help your institution cut costs or improve efficiency.

For companies serving the business-to-business market, schools with business incubators, including student incubators, could arrange interactions between the incubator tenants and the partner company, again for the purpose of market research or new product development.

By hosting networking sessions geared toward bringing the entrepreneurial community together, a community college can help partner companies make new connections and perhaps forge new alliances. At the same time, such events would expose more entrepreneurs and business people to your facility and your entrepreneurship program.

It is easy to see how an array of various forms of strategic partnerships with entrepreneurial companies — built around the concept of tying together the college’s success in entrepreneurship education and the partnering company’s entrepreneurial success — could also result in your institution becoming the go-to place for entrepreneurship education in your region. Establishing successful alliances with
local companies may later open up
the possibility of partnering with larger regional, or even national firms.

Boosting economic development through effective entrepreneurship education is a daunting task. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges involved is making entrepreneurship come alive for students, in a meaningful, experiential way so their entrepreneurial spark is lit, instead of just teaching them the basics in a traditional classroom setting. Building two-way relationships in which entrepreneurs are an active part of your organization can greatly serve to meet this challenge.

Instead of going it alone, strategic alliances of all types can be the keys to success when it comes to meeting the goal of entrepreneurship education and supporting your community’s economic health. Partnering with all types of organizations, including companies in the private sector, can help your community college achieve uncommon success.

- Heather Van Sickle is Executive Director of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
- Andre Taylor is CEO of Taylor Insight

It’s YOUR TURN. CCW wants to hear from you!

Q: What is the key to developing successful entrepreneurial learning programs?

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