California Community Colleges rewarded for supporting budding entrepreneurs

580 200 Amber Nelson

(Photo Credit: Philippe Lewicki/Flickr)

It’s no secret that small business is good business in California and the state’s community colleges are doing their part to support the small business economy with a focus on entrepreneurship that has earned two distinguished awards from the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE).

Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC) recently received NACCE’s prestigious Entrepreneurial College Award for their leadership in implementing entrepreneurially minded programs and Linda Forrest, Small Business Deputy Sector Navigator for the California Community Colleges Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy initiative, received NACCE’s Impact Award for excellence in serving entrepreneurs.

The NACCE is a member organization of more than 300 community colleges dedicated to empower college leadership to guide schools with an entrepreneurial mindset and to support colleges in their drive to support local job creation and entrepreneurship.

“We make good things happen,” Forrest said of her work. “I've been fortunate that some of my ideas have gone statewide and then nationwide.” A good example of the way she supports entrepreneurship is her leadership in developing a website to share resources for entrepreneurs. She started the project, shared it with her colleagues in all sectors and they pitched in to make it even better. Now, she’s sharing the best practice with community colleges in a number of states across the country.

Her work in the Small Business Sector is an initiative of the California Community Colleges Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy framework, which invests in California’s economic growth and global competitiveness through industry-specific partnerships, education, training, and services that contribute to a highly skilled and productive workforce.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, small businesses in California provide about half of the private sector jobs and more than a third of the entire labor force. The California Community Colleges are responding by working with business, industry and other workforce organizations to address the skills gap in California. The Strong Workforce Program is designed to respond to the needs of the state and its regions by training more skilled workers for growing sectors.

“In 2020, projections suggest that 40 percent of workers will be a part of the ‘gig’ economy,” Forrest said. An entrepreneurial mindset will help those temporary and contract workers find success. “Small business is the heartbeat of the economy,” she noted.

In addition to supporting the economy, Forrest sees her work in human terms. “There’s something about being involved with entrepreneurship that gives you a different mindset. It gives you an internal locus and can take a student from feeling defeated to discovering a problem to figuring out how to solve that problem.”

Rick Hodge, LASC dean of workforce development and career technical education, agrees. “It’s the most rewarding moment to see students take the resources we provide to them and go way beyond our expectations,” he said.

Hodge’s leadership earned the NACCE Entrepreneurial College Award for developing his school’s Center for Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) to help aspiring entrepreneurs connect to career and industry interests. “Students are taking real business ideas and turning them in to real, profitable businesses,” Hodge said.

Hodge points to one student’s funnel cake business as a success story. She transformed a simple craving for funnel cakes into a thriving business. When she and her boyfriend couldn’t find good, affordable funnel cakes locally, they decided to launch a venture on social media and see how far they could go. The skills she learned at LASC prepared her for the small business that now sells out of her doughy treat nearly every day.

“When I see students do what she has done, I know our program is succeeding,” Hodge said.

CEO has overseen the launch of several programs and events on campus to assist students and community members in acquiring the entrepreneurial skills they need to find success in the classroom, their professional lives and beyond. CEO is funded by the Deputy Sector Navigators of Small Business & Entrepreneurship and Global Trade and Logistics, which report to California Economic and Workforce Development Program of the California Community Colleges and Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy.

CEO projects have included Startup Weekend Los Angeles which featured a pitch contest for startup ideas, the Summer Business Institute which taught 11th and 12th graders how to develop and pitch a business ideas, the Women and Minority Entrepreneur Statewide Leadership Conference, the Entrepreneurship Pathway Academy to promote LASC’s certificate programs and a Social Media Marketing for Entrepreneurs workshop that helped students see Twitter, Facebook and Instagram through the lens of a small business owner.

“There’s always been an entrepreneurial focus on this campus,” said Hodge. “It’s all about jobs and skill development.”


Amber Nelson

All stories by: Amber Nelson