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Start It Up: Partnership Aids Early-Stage Business Owners

By Reyna Gobel

Emerging industry partnership plays off workforce innovations to drive new opportunities for students.

Students not finding the jobs they want? Maybe community colleges can help create them?

That’s at least part of the thinking behind a new partnership between Michigan’s Macomb Community College and JPMorgan Chase.

The $2 million grant program, half of which comes from the college’s Innovation Fund for startup and emerging businesses, and half of which comes from a matching contribution courtesy of JPMorgan, supports the creation of training programs and, in some cases, entire companies, dedicated to meeting the needs of an evolving regional economy.

Why Is Macomb investing in startups? Macomb is near Detroit, the heart of the nation’s automotive industry. Decimated during the economic downturn, iconic American automakers such as GM and Ford have come on strong in recent years. But many autoworkers have returned to work only to discover that the skills needed to succeed in the workplace have changed. Technology has altered or eliminated the need for certain manufacturing skill sets while and created entirely new opportunities in other areas, explains Jim Jacobs, the college’s president. A not-too-distant future includes consumer vehicles that can drive themselves. Automakers will need workers who understand this technology. Whole companies will likely emerge to meet the demand for these and other innovations. Through its partnership with JPMorgan Chase, Macomb is both training students for future careers and making an economic investment in the local community.

Who gets the money? Startups selected for funding through the program must offer employment opportunities for Macomb students, explains Jacobs. The program will begin accepting applications in January and more funding stipulations are likely to arise before then. Grants will be awarded in separate increments, with each award as high as $25,000. A select number of larger awards, some as high as $100,000, may have to be repaid via equity or cash payments to the fund. To be eligible for one of the $25,000 grants, applicant companies must submit a business plan. The larger awards will only be given to those companies that meet the criteria and have a strong existing business.

In some cases, businesses will be recruited by a strategic investment board that features representatives from the local economy. Every startup that receives an award through the fund also receives access to business mentorship courtesy of select board members.

Where did the idea come from? Macomb didn’t come up with the idea of an Innovation Fund on its own. Jacobs had heard of a similar program underway at Ohio’s Lorain County Community College (LCCC).

To be sure, Macomb and LCCC aren’t the only colleges investing money in programs to help small businesses and entrepreneurs. Bronx Community College (BCC) in New York recently partnered with the College Now early college program to offer a one-year virtual training program for aspiring business owners. Students enroll in the program in high school, and the credits they earn count toward an associate degree in business management or marketing at BCC. Administrators say those credits are also transferable to other colleges.

Elsewhere, financial giant Goldman Sachs is working with colleges across the country to provide free education, mentorship and capital for owners of locally owned businesses. Dubbed 10,000 Small Businesses, the program offers resources to owners of small businesses that have revenues between $150,000 and $4 million annually and that have been in operation for at least two years. Macomb is one of the colleges at which the Goldman Sachs courses are taught.

Does your college have programs in place to help startup businesses? Share its efforts in the Comments.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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