October 14, 2020 Rich Rezler
Washtenaw Community College was granted $23,000 from a national pitch competition to help prepare graduates of its HVAC program for business ownership.
The college was named one of five winners in the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) second annual 2020 Pitch for the Trades competition, sponsored by the Philip E. & Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation.
WCC’s entry, “HVAC Partnership Pipeline,” was led by WCC Entrepreneurship Center Director Kristin Gapske and Dean of Advanced Technologies Dr. Jimmie Baber. They presented a semifinal and final round pitch and were joined by Vice President for Instruction Dr. Kimberly Hurns for a Q&A session with judges.
Gapske said when she first heard about NACCE’s Pitch for the Trades, she attended an informational webinar thinking it would be a good opportunity for some campus entrepreneurs to pitch in a national contest, but soon realized it was a pitch competition for community collleges.
“What a way to put into practice what we teach at the Entrepreneurship Center – how to pitch, how to concisely put forward an easily understood plan and budget within a few minutes during a competition, and be nimble enough to answer tough questions from judges,” Gapske said. “I’d like to thank NACCE, the Ratcliffe Foundation, and my fellow pitch teammates, Dr. Hurns and Dean Baber, as well as Brian Martindale, the HVACR department chair, and the Entrepreneurship Center staff – Erin Elly, Claire Abraham and Tia Bean.”
The driving factors behind the WCC pitch were the facts that 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.
The HVAC Partnership Pipeline pitch was designed to create opportunities for HVAC professionals to develop 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 will 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.”
Carlene Cassidy, CEO of the Ratcliffe Foundation, said the organization was very impressed with this year’s proposals.
“The entrepreneurial activity and training programs being created to support emerging opportunities in skilled trades is exciting,” she said in a release. “The pandemic has clearly not slowed these colleges as they continue to innovate and encourage entrepreneurial activity and job creation in their communities. We admire their leadership, persistence, and ability to adapt during a time of uncertainty.”
Five winning colleges shared the $125,000 total in cash prizes offered by the Ratcliffe Foundation.
Other winners included the College of San Francisco, Barstow Community College, Catawba Valley Community College and North Idaho College.