Best Practices

U.S.SourceLink: Why Community Colleges Are Ideal Linchpins for Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Published Sep 22, 2014 by Sarah Mote

This is post is from Norris Krueger, Ph.D., reprinted with his permission. You can reach out to him via Twitter at @entrep_thinking or follow his blog.

If you haven’t read VC/serial entrepreneur Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities” Do it. Now. (I’ll wait.) It’s very inexpensive… and makes great gifts for other key players in your school and your entrepreneurial community. (Hint, hint.)

Community colleges have unique properties that make them indispensable to growing local entrepreneurial economies. Brad’s book makes a great case for what’s needed to really grow your ecosystem and his four critical success factors map nicely onto what academic researchers and economic developers are learning. And if you want to raise your street cred with entrepreneurs, get familiar with the four key dimensions of a healthy ecosystem that Brad identifies.

Community colleges are uniquely positioned to help cultivate these key dimensions. For example, why do we support top-down approaches to growing economies? Why focus attention on institutions and other power players… despite the reality it doesn’t actually work? Successful local economies grow bottom-up. Bringing all the grand poobahs together gets a lot of ink and warm fuzzies but if you truly want a “startup community” it has to be bottom-up. This is not to say institutions are irrelevant. Quite the contrary! Experts like Kauffman, Kellogg, EDA, NSF (and OECD, UN, EU… even the Vatican!) find that much like innovation champions in a large organization, institutions’ role is to develop, support and enforce enabling conditions for the bottom-up. Help it not dictate it. Isn’t that exactly what community colleges do?

“Feld’s Four”: Every successful ecosystem has all four characteristics.

bfd1. Is the defragging of the ecosystem being led by people who actually understand entrepreneurs? By the entrepreneurial community itself?

            Or are there self-styled experts who don’t ‘get’ the entrepreneurial mindset? Most communities default to bringing together key institutions and ‘power players’ but are the power players helping the entrepreneurial community implement their visions or are they dictating it, even inadvertently?

            Unfair Advantage for  Community Colleges: Aren’t we borderline obsessively customer-centric?

We can ensure that it’s the voice of the entrepreneurs are heard, not those who try to speak for them. [sample defrag]


bfd2. Are the efforts inclusive? Something for different types of entrepreneurs?

In different industries/sectors, different locations, different strategies, different ages and sizes? We need entrepreneurial thinking to blossom all through the ecosystem. [value props]

            Unfair Advantage for Community Colleges: We are inclusive by design with the skills and connections to engage the entire ecosystem, not just the trendy parts.


bfd3. Are there rallying points where everyone can look to?

            Unfair Advantage for Community Colleges: A strong tradition of being able to quickly develop and deliver programs that capture what the community wants. With all the programs to grow our ecosystem (whether Startup Weekend or Ice House training) community colleges are great at making well-attended events happen on schedule and within budget. [sample tactics]


bfd4. Are you willing to embrace that this is a long-term proposition? Our role in workforce development should serve us well to craft cohesive, comprehensive strategies for entrepreneurship development.

            Unfair Advantage for Community Colleges: As nimble and flexible as community colleges are, they also have the luxury of thinking long-term. Community colleges have great lasting power as institutions and good at thinking strategically, e.g., workforce development programs.


Exercise You Can Do Today!: Breakout groups each take one of the Feld Four and brainstorm “what I could do personally to advance ____?” Just make sure you’ve got entrepreneurial facilitators!

Why Community Colleges Matter… Deeply

Your entrepreneurial community needs you to help defrag the ecosystem. Consider your inherent advantages:

  • Natural connectors – it’s your job
  • Neutral turf/fair broker – who else is on good terms with most of the community?
  • Lead by example not turf/juice/clout –you have to deliver
  • Natural CO-immersion – not only are you deeply in the community, entrepreneurs already walk your halls.
  • Naturally bottom-up – who else is so customer-obsessed?
  • Natural includers – it’s our job to be!
  • Already contributing visibly in multiple ways
  • TRUST! Building the ecosystem begins with those who trust and are trusted by everyone. Isn’t that… you?