Macomb Community College just put a considerable amount of money where its mouth is.
The college’s Board of Trustees agreed this week to allocate $1 million for creation of an Innovation Fund, a program that provides financial support to start-up and established businesses, which in turn will offer educational and employment opportunities for students.
“The basic purpose is to spur economic development and job creation in the region,” said Casandra Ulbrich, vice president for advancement and community relations for MCC.
“Community colleges are the perfect place to do something like an innovation fund. We’re so connected to the community and business and industry, but we’re also very flexible and able to create projects like this.”
Patterned after a similar effort at Lorain County (Ohio) Community College, the program would offer financial support in two forms: grants of $25,000 to entrepreneurs seeking to start businesses; and awards of up to $100,000 to established firms looking to expand or “get to that next level,” Ulbrich said.
In exchange, companies would provide MCC students with internship opportunities and, in some cases, paid employment. The long-term goal, is to create successful businesses that will create quality jobs in southeastern Michigan.
To earn a grant or award, companies will go through a competitive process that includes meeting with an advisory board of local entrepreneurs and business professionals that will recommend who earns the awards.
Board members also will serve as mentors to those who receive the grants.
The $1 million to start the program was transferred from MCC’s “strategic fund” to the Macomb Community College Foundation. No general fund money was tapped to create the program, Ulbrich added.
The Innovative Fund will be replenished by private donations as well as repayment of some of the funds awarded to established companies.
“It is our intent for the fund to continue,” Ulbrich said.
James Jacobs, MCC president, often speaks of the necessity of the college to become a major player in the economic revitalization of southeastern Michigan. The Innovative Fund is fits that commitment, he said.
“Macomb Community College’s new Innovation Fund represents a tremendous opportunity for the community,” Jacobs said. “ We will never reach the employment levels of the past, so it is imperative for the college to focus on economic development strategies that help grow our own jobs.
“While we expect Macomb’s Innovation Fund to contribute to fostering an ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ in Macomb County and the region, we also see it inspiring our students to entrepreneurship and innovation.”
The program nearly didn’t get off the ground. On the agenda for a vote at the Board of Trustees Aug.. 19 meeting, the proposal failed on a 2-2 vote when three members of the board — Christine Bonkowski, Roseanne DiMaria and Nancy Falcone – were unexpectedly absent.
Connie Bolanowski and Joseph DeSantis voted in favor of the funds transfer, while James Kelly and Frank Cusumano were opposed.
Officials set up a special meeting this week to reconsider the proposal, which passed by a 5-1 vote. Kelly, Bonkowski, Bolanowski, DiMaria and Falcone approved the measure while Cusumano voted no. DeSantis was absent.