Quite a few community colleges run business incubators that provide low-cost space and mentoring to start-ups, writes Matt Reed. This fits with the workforce and economic development mission.
At the NACCE (National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship) conference, several speakers called for making entrepreneurship “a general education outcome, like effective writing or quantitative reasoning,” he writes.
The idea is that the job market has changed, and that if the economy is going to thrive in the future, it will thrive through innovation. Better to train students to hang out their own shingles than to train them for jobs that no longer exist.
Reed finds “the idea of entrepreneurship as a general education outcome . . . both tempting and unconvincing.”
. . . entrepreneurship should not be confined to business majors. Many great businesses don’t start because someone wanted to create a business; they start because someone falls in love with an idea, and wants to make a living with that idea. Maintaining the atmosphere of creativity on a campus . . . (is) necessary for the more straightforwardly economic mission to succeed.
Yet community colleges’ experience with business incubators doesn’t mean they know how to create entrepreneurs. Incubators often work with startups that aren’t especially innovative, Reed points out. The guy starting a taco stand wants to make a living and be his own boss, not change the world.
At the NACCE conference, Tressie McMillan Cottom made the underappreciated point that there’s another category of entrepreneur that we tend to ignore. In many cities, there’s a fairly active gray-market economy of low-income people running informal businesses out of their homes. These can be childcare, hair care, car repair, catering, or any number of other things. The people running these businesses often have limited capital and limited access to, or understand of, the rules of the aboveground economy.
Community colleges could help gray-market entrepreneurs grow into the aboveground economy by “making legible the tangle of tax rules, licensing rules, employer-employee rules, and the like.”