You don’t have to have hundreds of millions of dollars in research expenditures, expansive research equipment and facilities, or a thick curriculum catalog to win in the world of innovation. Recently, leaders at technical and community colleges are beginning to bolster their relevance to industry and investors through creative commercialization, entrepreneurship, and innovation initiatives.

Community and technical colleges are adopting many of the innovative best practices from larger university technology transfer offices, corporate relations units, and entrepreneurial education initiatives, but with a twist. These colleges understand that their position is unique and their advantage is in exploiting these core differences from larger institutions to broker unique relationships with commercial and investment partners, including:

  • Access to specialized and technical future workforce of students with extensive training
  • Unique access to equipment and facilities (and trained operators) through community college consortiums
  • Contracted services for industry to quickly solve immediate technical challenges,  often without IP considerations
  • Positioning throughout states, especially in rural areas, provides an avenue to local resources and customers

One shining example of this evolution is taking place on the campus of Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) in western North Carolina one hour from Charlotte. CVCC has taken an aggressive approach to developing and expanding its innovation curriculum and facilities. Two examples of their successes include:

  • Seed Fund: Last month, CVCC launched the Innovation Fund North Carolina, in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation and the Innovation Fund America, that will provide up to $1.2M annually in grants and loans to start-ups across the state. An experience-rich advisory board, state-wide pipeline of ideas, and a unique capability to provide commercial development services and incubation to promising technologies and start-ups position this program for success.
  • Manufacturing Solutions CenterThe Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) is a resource program which boasts applied manufacturing capabilities with a global focus . The ISO-certified facility fields nearly 200 requests a day which has forced a 5x expansion in space to a new 30,000 square foot facility. The MSC works with companies of all sizes to prototype and develop solutions, solve technical challenges, and establish commercialization routes and connections to development partners.

Leading community and technical colleges, like Catawba Valley Community College, are ramping up their innovation offerings as both viable solution providers to industry, investors and start-ups as well as state-wide partners to other research, public, and private institutions.