By Rich Rezler
Washtenaw Community College is one step away from receiving a significant financial boost in its quest to prepare graduates of its HVAC program for business ownership.
The college was named one of seven finalists in National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship’s (NACCE) second annual 2020 Pitch for the Trades competition, sponsored by the Philip E. & Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation.
Winning colleges will share the $125,000 in cash prizes offered by the Ratcliffe Foundation.
WCC’s entry in the competition is titled “HVAC Partnership Pipeline,” and is led by WCC Entrepreneurship Center Director Kristin Gapske and Dean of Advanced Technologies Dr. Jimmie Baber. They presented a semifinal-round pitch earlier this week and were joined by Vice President for Instruction Dr. Kimberly Hurns for a Q&A session with judges.
Hurns described the motivation behind the WCC pitch:
“HVAC is a trades area where a larger percentage of technicians will become entrepreneurs, but the failure rate of businesses in that field is higher than other small businesses,” she said. “We want to make sure that all HVAC professionals have entrepreneurial skills to contribute to the growth of their employers and be skilled to start their own business directly after the program or in the future.”
Gapske said the Entrepreneurship Center already offers several resources to HVAC students, and the prize money would allow them to enhance these offerings, including an all-day “Business of HVAC Boot Camp,” and adding an HVAC expert to the center’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence business coaching service. The pitch also calls for the college to create a new HVAC online course.
“The HVAC Partnership Pipeline has three desired outcomes,” Gapske said. “One is to motivate students to professionalize through mentorship and training, another is to offer more access and support, and the third is to contribute to the local economy by graduating even more well-rounded and highly skilled HVAC professionals.”
The final round of the competition will be held on October 13 at the NACCE national conference.
Other finalists include North Idaho College, Ivy Technical Community College (Indiana), City College of San Francisco, Richland Community College (Illinois), Catawba Valley Community College (North Carolina) and Barstow Community College (California).
“The 11 semifinalists who pitched this week demonstrated creativity and great passion for opening up new doors of opportunity for women, people of color, veterans, immigrants and other would-be entrepreneurs who can start their own business in a skilled trade through programming and support from their local community college,” Rebecca Corbin, president and CEO of NACCE said in a release. “We are delighted to congratulate the seven teams advancing to the finals in October at the annual NACCE conference.”