In 2007, Spokane Community College (SCC) launched their Integrated Business & Entrepreneurship program. This program is unique in that it is an applied curriculum that focuses on providing entrepreneurs with the tools and skills necessary to successfully launch their business. Students are required to have a business idea when they enroll, and they work on all aspects of their business plan throughout the program. Instructors leverage 40-50 business leaders and subject matter experts from the community to share their experiences and expertise. The goal is for the students to be ready to launch their business at the end of the 6 month program.
Several organizations, including Avista, provided seed funding to get the SCC program launched in 2007. In 2011, the program and its outcomes were evaluated by Avista. So impressed with the number of businesses and jobs created that a business development and job creation strategy was developed around licensing the curriculum from SCC and approaching other community colleges throughout Avista’s three-state service territory to gauge their interest in launching entrepreneurship programs. In 2012, North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Walla Walla Community College in Clarkston, Washington, Rogue Community College in Medford, Oregon, and Spokane Valley Tech (a consortium of high schools) were all committed to launching their respective entrepreneurship programs. While the SCC curriculum was shared with each school, they were encouraged to adjust the curriculum to meet the needs of their respective institution and community. As a result, the Avista Business Entrepreneurship Network was formed.
The value of the Business Entrepreneurship Network extends beyond each of the schools delivering entrepreneurship education to their students. The consortium meets formally twice per year to share their program delivery models, marketing strategy, trends and best practices. This collaboration has resulted in individual program delivery adjustments, marketing and promoting the programs, pursuing grant funding as a consortium, measuring and tracking outcomes, and taking a holistic approach toward creating an robust support system in each of the communities where the schools reside. The consortium are all members of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, which enables the group to attend an annual conference to garner information about national trends and best practices.
A separate micro-enterprise loan fund was established by Avista to make small, but meaningful, loans to successful graduates of the programs. Graduates can apply for and receive a one-time $15,000 loan at any time after graduation.
During the 2013-2014 academic year, all five schools delivered their entrepreneurship programs. Over 75 students were enrolled and over 20 businesses have been created thus far. These outcomes are in addition to the outcomes from SCC over the past seven years.
The Avista Business Entrepreneurship Network is further expanding, with participation from University of Idaho and Washington State University as it regards pursuing grant funding to enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem across our region.