SoCal community college goes into startup funding business

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

LBCC will reap the benefits of a program designed to help entrepreneurs. (Photo Credit: mindfieldz)

There’s no denying California’s community colleges have proven to play a vital role in the state’s economic recovery. Folks wanting to get retrained in a different field are hitting the books via community colleges. These institutions are producing a skilled workforce for jobs available now.

Community colleges are also known to be hubs for entrepreneurial activity and job creation. It’s that type of innovative spirit that is the basis of a new pilot program aimed to help the schools and the communities they serve launch and grow technology based startups.

Long Beach Community College (LBCC) was one of three community colleges picked, in the country, by Innovation Fund America (IFA), as one site to pilot the program that will invest in, mentor and motivate high-growth entrepreneurs.

“Because we have a strong platform of a lot of economic development programs, we applied. We are happy to be a part of this, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Lou Anne Bynum, Executive Vice President of College Advancement and Economic Development at Long Beach City College.

“LBCC has built an impressive array of economic development programs at the college in the last  years, including: the Los Angeles Regional Small Business Development Center Network serving Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business program, as well as the Virtual Incubation Network initiative. All of this has set the stage for our team to help lead innovative programs like the IFA and continue to find new ways to support entreprenuers in our area.”

Entrepreneurs and those who just started a business are eligible for the pilot program. The idea is to get to this group of people before “they get to venture capitalists and investors.”

“If they’ve got a great idea, a great product, but they need a proof of concept, well they would be able to work with some of our investors to provide grants that could bring their proof of concept to scale,” said Bynum. “The idea is to give between $25,000 to $100,000 in grants to these entrepreneurs or new businesses.”

The plan is to target high-growth companies or technology-based, high-growth companies around Long Beach’s industry clusters, which are all-important to the region: international trade and transportation, alternative fuels and green technology, health care, business development and manufacturing technology.

“You can’t talk about regional industry sectors without technology infused in all.”

Right now LBCC is in the fundraising stage, turning to their partners, for a total goal of $750,000.

“The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation committed $1 million to the Innovation Fund America effort. We don’t get any of that money directly. It’s just for technical assistance from IFA and some national partners, Lorain County Community College and the other two schools,” said Bynum. “We are all working together.”

This pilot program replicates Lorain County Community College’s successful Innovation Fund model for mentoring and funding high-growth startups, especially first-time founders, that has seen a lot of success in spurring sustainable economic growth in northeast Ohio, hit hard during the recession.

“Our hope is to launch four cycles with the first one starting in August, all to be completed by the end of 2014,” said Bynum. “We will develop a web-based application for those who are interested, to apply. Once we pick them, they will go through the process: meet with mentors, work with them, get some educational wrap arounds, development support, then pitch their idea to our founders and decisions will be made about who to support.”

IFA’s intent is to “show this model can be replicated.”

“Our hope is we are creating and growing jobs in our region and the right kind of jobs. We feel this is going to fill a niche in the Los Angeles region,” said Bynum. “For Long Beach Community College, this launches us into a totally different space when it comes to providing good economic development support to our region.”

“The IFA partners share a vision and passion for democratizing technology-based entrepreneurship,” said Thom Ruhe, Kauffman Foundation vice president of entrepreneurship and IFA board member. “Together we aim to make community colleges a front door for entrepreneurship across our country.”


Cheryl Getuiza

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