| By: By H. Leigh Toney, Miami Dade College

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Entrepreneurship and Innovation are the Future of Local Economies

Miami Dade College (MDC) sounds like Miami-Dade County. And, while there is no official link between the county and the college, the county continues to look to the college to help meet our region’s future work force needs and thereby our futures are in many ways inextricably linked. Miami Dade County’s plan for a vibrant and robust future is encapsulated in its One Community One Goal (OCOG) plan. The mission of OCOG is to identify and prioritize the industries that will have the highest potential for creating the new jobs required in our economy and to work with the education community to provide the training required to support the growth of those industries. The goal of OCOG is to create 75,000 new jobs in Miami-Dade County between 2012 and 2017 in seven targeted industries: international banking and finance; hospitality and tourism; creative services; healthcare and life sciences; aviation; information technology; and logistics.

Miami Dade College opened in 1960 as a two-year open-access community college. Now, the college offers 14 baccalaureate degree programs and more than 300 major areas of study to its more than 175,000 students. In fact, MDC recently reached a major milestone by admitting its two millionth student in a county with a population of 2.5 million residents. MDC also operates the only academic center, the Carrie P. Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center (MEEC), located in the historically African American community of Liberty City, a working-class suburb of the City of Miami. MEEC, an academic outreach center of the North Campus, serves 3,000 students annually, 95 percent of whom are African American. The North Campus, located six miles northwest of the MEEC, serves some 50,000 students, 56 percent of whom are Hispanic and 36 percent of whom are black. The student profile of the North Campus and Meek Center is majority Hispanic and African American; first time in college; a high number from low-income families; and the majority of students work full time while attending college. Most also require remediation in at least one core subject area.

Our institutional research data also shows that the majority of MDC students remain in Miami after completing their studies, thus they are the future of the county’s labor force. So, not only will these students be the county’s future employees, they also must be its future employers. In other words, entrepreneurship education matters!

Entrepreneurship Is Interdisciplinary!

As the executive director of the Meek Center, I was charged to lead a newly created Entrepreneurship Task Force (E-Ship Task Force), an interdisciplinary group formed in January with the goal of making entrepreneurship education everybody’s business. This was one of the first steps taken after I spent a week with fellow entrepreneurship educators from around the world at Babson College’s Entrepreneurship Education Symposium.

The E-ship Task Force is comprised of faculty, staff, and administrators from various disciplines, including Social Sciences, English, Criminal Justice, Entertainment and Design Technology, Continuing Education, and Business. And, since entrepreneurship is a cocurricular endeavor, the E-ship Task Force includes key staff and administrators from Advisement & Career Services, Testing, and Student Life. The goal is to equip the campus to offer entrepreneurship education courses and cocurricular activities in the broadest array of programming possible in order to capture students at several points throughout their matriculation—from gateway classes such as College Survival Skills courses for first-year students to completion courses such as internships and capstone courses required for graduation.

The E-ship Task Force oversees the campus’ entire entrepreneurship strategy and is hosting the NACCE Summit Series Regional Conference in November at the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week 2013. But, its first order of business is to Educate the Educator as the critical linchpin to engendering an entrepreneurial mindset throughout the campus.

Educate the Educator and Develop the Mindset

The One Community, One Goal plan is relying on the Miami Dade higher education community to help increase the availability and capacity of programs that educate and network entrepreneurs. The plan states that as a community, Miami Dade County must “ensure adequacy of entrepreneurship programs by “educating the educators” and “training the trainers.” At the Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center and the North Campus, this opportunity is being met with enthusiasm from a wide cross section of faculty, especially from nontraditional areas, such as Social Sciences & College Survival Skills, English, and Entertainment and Design Technology.

Having worked with a variety of curricular programs, we are working with the Who Owns the Ice House (WOTIH) curriculum for this effort. Here’s why we chose WOTIH. The MDC, North Campus, and MEEC serve the highest concentration of Pell-eligible students in the college. Many of these students come from working-class families where entrepreneurship is not the typical path to employment. The story of Uncle Cleve, the unlikely entrepreneur, and the young nephew he inspires, Clifton Taulbert, also is a culturally competent tool for use with our majority population of minority students.

Moreover, WOTIH focuses on helping college students develop the entrepreneurial mindset. It also includes tools to support ideation, another key element of entrepreneurship that is often overlooked in more prescriptive entrepreneurship programs. WOTIH creates the space for the entrepreneurial mindset to be developed and for ideation to happen.

Space to Ideate: Accelerator and Collegiate Chamber of Commerce

Ideation is where entrepreneurship begins. To encourage our students to create and believe in the power of their ideas, we hosted our first student Accelerator Idea Canvas competition last spring. We partnered with a local economic development agency partner, the Miami Dade Economic Advocacy Trust, to award cash prizes to the winners.

All students participating in the Accelerator Competition were invited to be founders of a new Collegiate Chamber of Commerce, dedicated solely to drive and support student entrepreneurial ventures. The Collegiate Chamber of Commerce is open to students from all majors or pathways of study, and is a new initiative of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce which certified its first collegiate chamber at the University of Michigan earlier this year.

Legitimizing Entrepreneurship as a Career Pathway The U.S. Council on Competitiveness in its 2008 report, “Competitive Index: Where America Stands,” states that:

“Entrepreneurship is a critical driver of success in the modern economy. New companies and their subsequent growth create most of the new jobs in the United States.”

From that, researcher Dr. Cathy Ashmore rightly concludes that, “Entrepreneurship must be positioned as a career option equal to any other career if we are to have a healthy, growing economy.”

Miami Dade College is three years into a college-wide transformation effort called the Student Achievement Initiative (SAI). One of the goals of SAI is to create clear pathways of study, enabling students to complete their degree on time. The same rational approach is needed in order for entrepreneurship to be seen as a real major. The E-ship Task Force, under the leadership of its faculty-driven curriculum subcommittee, will be investigating ways to create clearer and rational pathways for students across all majors to do several things:

  1. At a minimum, link an Entrepreneurship Certificate to their pathways of study
  2. Grow ventures and receive support from coaches, trainers, and mentors in on-campus accelerator spaces while still attending classes
  3. Expand the course offers in entrepreneurship and related topics, especially those subjects related to the One Community One Goal Targeted Industries.

And, the ultimate goal of the E-ship Task Force and the campus overall is to connect our students to the ever-widening entrepreneurship ecosystem that is burgeoning in Miami Dade County, and to continue to grow entrepreneurially minded students and graduates that will own their futures!