By MIKE PATRICK
Hagadone News Network
COEUR d’ALENE — Talk about an entrepreneurial encore.
Last fall, North Idaho College was named Entrepreneurial College of the Year by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. The only thing better than such lofty accolades might have been a fat check.
Now NIC’s got that, too.
Under the leadership of President Rick MacLennan and Ryan Arnold, regional director of entrepreneurial strategy for the college, NIC has been awarded a $675,607, three-year federal grant. That money will be used to launch the NIC Venture Center, the two announced Thursday.
The Venture Center will feature two complementary programs in the college’s Hedlund Building: equipment for a Rapid Prototype Lab and educational programming in a new Venture Academy.
“This is what we can offer that I don’t think anyone else can offer right now,” Arnold said.
He was referring not just to how the grant will be used, but the way the Venture Center will work with three other pistons in the college’s burgeoning economic development engine. That includes the Avista Center for Entrepreneurship, a 12-credit program; Gizmo, a community makerspace featuring hands-on education; and NIC’s Small Business Development Center, which offers business coaching, training and mentorship.
“We’re creating a place where services, programs and support work in a complementary way to make magic happen,” MacLennan said.
The trick to make nearly three-quarters of a million dollars appear wouldn’t have happened without a tremendous grant application and strong community support, MacLennan and Arnold said.
They said Hannah Paton, NIC grants development manager, did a superb job in ensuring the application matched NIC’s capabilities and vision with the intent behind the grant. Only 24 grants were awarded from a field of more than 230 applications, including universities, cities, counties and more.
The community support included compelling letters from local business and governmental leaders. According to Laura Rumpler, NIC’s chief communications officer, a letter of support from U.S. Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho carried plenty of weight. The letter also clearly enunciated how the grant money will make a positive difference in Risch’s home state.
“The purpose of the Venture Center will be to support local entrepreneurs as they seek to develop new products and concepts for commercial purposes,” wrote Risch, who just concluded a term as chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
“To aid in this mission the center will have a prototype laboratory, where product ideas will be built and tested. This prototype laboratory will be very fruitful for local entrepreneurs. Many of those with exciting new ideas often experience difficulties during development and find that they cannot fully realize their vision without extensive experimentation and the use of specialized equipment.
“The Center will also have a Venture Academy, where entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs will learn from experts about how to hone their ideas and turn them into a commercial reality.”
Arnold said it will take the first year “to get up and running,” then two years to operate and to measure.
Roughly a third of the grant will be used to purchase equipment and tools, he said. Atop his to-do list is finding and hiring a lab manager.
The center will accommodate students and members of the public from North Idaho and eastern Washington. Arnold estimated that a team of four non-students would pay about $500 a month for all the services the Venture Center will offer.
MacLennan emphasized that with the big boost from the grant, three key community college words will continue to be honored: Open, Affordable, Accessible.
“This is our sweet spot,” MacLennan said.
Information: Contact Ryan Arnold, Ryan.Arnold@nic.edu