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Kauffman Foundation Leaders Lend Expertise to Conference as Innovation Fund America Efforts Advance

Southern California

Pilot programs for Innovation Fund America (IFA) at Long Beach City College (LBCC) in Southern California and Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) in North Carolina are moving forward with efforts to build community awareness and raise funds. These programs award grants and loans, and provide educational resources, coaching and network benefits to high-growth entrepreneurs through a partnership among the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, IFA and the host community colleges.

Tomorrow the Kauffman Foundation will co-host with LBCC innovate!socal 2014. The daylong conference brings together disruptive thinkers in economic development and entrepreneurship education with high-growth startups to enhance Southern California’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A keynote address will be delivered by Kauffman Foundation Senior Fellow Ted Zoller, who leads the Center of Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Zoller will address drivers of startup deal flow, the performance of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and commercialization of innovation in Southern California. He also will moderate a panel discussion on how entrepreneurs learn, while Jonathan Robinson, manager of entrepreneurship at Kauffman, will moderate a panel titled “Casting a Wider Net: Entrepreneurs Don’t Swim in Schools.”

Sheneui Weber, executive director of LBCC, explained the impetus behind the event. “In the past year, Long Beach City College has been engaged in a fascinating journey with our IFA partners to launch Innovation Fund SoCal,” Weber said. “In putting together the pieces of this new program, we had hundreds of conversations with entrepreneurs, investors, business experts, venture capitalists, angels, financial types, universities, incubators and accelerators. Common threads and questions emerged and led us to create innovate!socal 2014 to hear from a diverse panel of leaders and thinkers around four key themes. Ultimately, it’s all about enhancing innovation and collaboration to support and grow our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Community colleges increasingly are recognized as important engines for entrepreneurial activity, innovation and job creation in the United States. IFA was launched with a $1 million grant from the Kauffman Foundation in May 2012 to help community colleges support the formation and growth of more scalable, technology-based startups.

LBCC and CVCC in Hickory, N.C., were the first schools selected to pilot the program in early 2013.

CVCC subsequently partnered with Fayetteville Technical Community College and the City of Conover to found Innovation Fund North Carolina (IFNC), which launched in December. IFNC awarded $300,000 in pre-seed grants of $25,000 and non-recourse loans of $75,000 to eight North Carolina startups in its first cycle of awards, which was fully funded by IFNC’s founding partners.

Applications from North Carolina startups are now being accepted for the second round of Innovation Fund awards. The deadline to apply is Feb. 7, with grants and loans to be awarded April 23.

“We’ve had a clear vision at Kauffman of the vital role that our nation’s community colleges can play in democratizing access to the processes of innovation and founding and growing scalable companies,” Robinson said. “We and our partners have worked hard to develop IFA as an important resource for entrepreneurs in the two communities served by this pilot, and we’re just getting started. Community colleges across the country will be a front door to high-growth entrepreneurship in the future.”

About Innovation Fund America

Innovation Fund America is a 501(c)3 partnership between the Kauffman Foundation and Lorain County Community College (LCCC) in Elyria, Ohio. The program seeks to replicate nationally LCCC’s successful Innovation Fund model for mentoring and funding high-growth startups, especially first-time founders, that has seen considerable success in spurring sustainable economic growth in northeast Ohio. The Innovation Fund offers vital support to new and young firms through pre-seed-stage access to capital for proof of concept, intensive coaching and mentoring, and education and internship opportunities.

IFA seeks to prove the viability of its model in the pilot sites before expanding the program to additional community college campuses nationwide.