May 31, 2012: A model for entrepreneurship education and early-stage funding for startups, born at Lorain County Community College, will make its way to the national stage with the support of a $1 million grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The partnership aims to replicate nationally Lorain County Community College's highly successful model for mentoring and funding high-growth startups, educating new founders, and, in turn, spurring regional economic growth. The project, named Innovation Fund America, will begin with a pilot in three communities around the country, to be selected in the coming months. Kauffman and LCCC aim to eventually scale the model to more schools around the country and build a national network to support them.
"Kauffman has a rich history of working with colleges and universities to build entrepreneurship education programs and curricula because entrepreneurship is a long-term strategy for job creation and economic growth," said Thom Ruhe, Kauffman Foundation vice president of entrepreneurship. "With community colleges embedded in more than 1,200 communities across the United States, we see a tremendous opportunity to employ their resources to support, educate and inspire local residents to pursue entrepreneurial ventures."
The Innovation Fund was launched by the Lorain County Community College Foundation in 2007 to support high-growth technology entrepreneurs in the historically manufacturing-centered northeast Ohio. It was founded as an extension of Lorain County Community College's existing entrepreneurial support efforts, including the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE), an on-campus business incubator created in partnership with the Lorain County Commissioners and Lorain County Chamber of Commerce.
"Our partnership that created GLIDE provided Lorain County a vehicle to capture and grow new startups in high tech areas designated by Ohio Third Frontier," said Lorain County Commissioner Ted Kalo. "The Innovation Fund has been a critical outgrowth of GLIDE, creating needed infrastructure for both mentoring and funding new companies to grow jobs."
GLIDE's entrepreneurial staff has advised more than 2,600 entrepreneurs and formally mentored over 100 companies that have created new jobs in Lorain County. The incubator's success pointed out significant funding need among early-stage companies.
Since its launch in 2007, the Innovation Fund has grown in partners and scope, adding significant resources of expertise, funding and support to the process. The Innovation Fund collaborative network now spans across the region and includes partners such as: Cleveland State University, Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy (NEOUCOM), Stark State College, The University of Akron, The University of Akron Research Foundation, Youngstown State University, and the Youngstown Business Incubator.
The Ohio Department of Development has been another key partner in the Innovation Fund. Ohio Third Frontier has provided critical matching support of nearly $4.5 million through its competitive-based Pre-Seed Fund initiative. Every dollar provided by Ohio Third Frontier was matched by local philanthropic organizations and partners, creating a total fund of over $10 million of which nearly $6 million has been awarded to promising technology start-ups.
"While Ohio Third Frontier, as a key partner, helped to light the flame by providing Pre-Seed Fund opportunities, LCCC continues to feed it by introducing programs that greatly benefit Ohio entrepreneurs," said Christiane Schmenk, Director of the Ohio Department of Development and Chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission. "This model is yet another example of how Ohio is getting a strong return on its investment and adding to our reputation as an innovation state."
Kauffman Foundation leaders said the Innovation Fund stood out because of the three critical components of its approach to supporting new and young firms: an emphasis on founder mentorship, experiential entrepreneurship education, and improving access to early stage funding.
In its first five years, the fund made nearly 100 awards totaling close to $6 million, leading to $62 million in follow-on funding and more than 150 internships for students.
"Despite being situated in one of the more economically depressed areas of the state, Lorain County Community College, through its Innovation Fund, has had a tremendous and positive impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of northeast Ohio," Ruhe said. "We believe it's a model that LCCC and Kauffman should replicate in other regions, and we will show that community colleges can, with the right resources, be at the center of local entrepreneur-led growth."
Dr. Roy Church, president of Lorain County Community College concurred, emphasizing that the collaboration between LCCC and Kauffman will lead to a new class of entrepreneurial community colleges.
"This partnership with the Kauffman Foundation places community colleges at the forefront of supporting entrepreneurship," he said. "By showcasing how this model can be replicated, we can enhance community colleges' capacity to accelerate innovation in their communities."