Community colleges today are able to offer economic solutions for communities large and small, urban and rural. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has worked collaboratively to help them fill that role. With the support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, AACC worked with colleges in 11 states, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), and the U.S. Small Business Administration to convene a Virtual Incubation Network (VIN) and design a toolkit for national dissemination to community colleges.
As communities across the country revitalize their local economies with entrepreneurship and small business growth, they often call on community colleges and their partners to provide skilled training, educational services and guidance to build out innovative ideas. Many colleges establish small business incubators to nurture companies through the most challenging start-up stages of development, with an ultimate aim of increasing jobs and revenue in the local community. The development of the VIN recognizes that these services need not depend on a traditional brick-and-mortar facility. Instead the VIN’s new delivery mechanisms include support provided at the business site and hybrid in-person and technology processes. The tools created by the VIN will help community colleges grow entrepreneur talent while offering more flexible delivery to existing small business owners and start-up businesses leaders.
The toolkit supports community colleges in building and sustaining a virtual incubation and economic development effort. Its tools are tailored for the needs of three primary audiences:
- All Audiences: “A Tools” are targeted to all audiences interested in virtual incubation, community colleges and workforce and economic change agents.
- College Leadership: “L Tools” are targeted to college leadership (chancellors, presidents, and deans) who want to know the fundamental financing and staffing needs and rationale for a virtual incubator. These tools discuss strategies to embed an entrepreneurial spirit into the campus and community. Leaders can read them, commit to the effort, allocate resources to support this on their campus and pass these through to their core team.
- College Staff: “S Tools,” which comprise the bulk of the toolkit, are meant as tactical tools for the staff who work on a day-to-day basis to create a viable virtual incubator. These tools are intended to provide specifics on virtual incubator structure, partnerships, buy-in, evaluation and leverage. Some of these tools are specifically designed for college staff to both use and pass through to the entrepreneurs.
Relevance of the Tools
As your college embarks on a bold virtual incubation effort, it is important to note that the VIN Toolkit is not a complete cookbook for success, but rather the compilation of the most current, varying, and successful virtual incubation elements drawn from community colleges across the country. Colleges will need to review the complete tool set to determine the ones that fit their needs appropriately.
This project could not have been completed without the tireless effort of the following AACC member colleges, their presidents and their core team members: Burlington County College, Indian River State College, Lorain County Community College, Long Beach City College, Mott Community College, North Iowa Area Community College, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Rio Salado College, Santa Fe Community College, Southeast Community College, White Mountains Community College.
In addition to the colleges, this work was made possible by the exceptionally driven and capable individuals at each of the following organizations: