Young, eager, and dedicated was my mindset in 2016 when I applied to the EEC Ohio, Entrepreneurship Immersion Week (EIW) program, while entering my final semester of undergrad at Cleveland State University. The EIW program gave me my first real taste of entrepreneurship. It created a space for me to pitch my first venture on a big stage, added practical knowledge to my resume, and connected me with lasting relationships. Most of all, it provided the experience that built my confidence as a young Latina in the City of Cleveland to take on entrepreneurship! It helped ignite a flame that hasn’t gone out since.
If you know anything about my personal journey, you know that I’ve been able to beat all the odds from being a first generation graduate in my family to developing multiple brands in business. All of this is true and tangible for me because of support from organizations like Entrepreneurship Education Consortium (EEC). That is why, when I was asked to become a board member, I said, “YES!” without hesitation. I’m not only the youngest board member but I am also the only one that has experienced EEC programming as a student. I’ve been able to add unique perspectives and value to the direction of the organization.
There have been major strides to move EEC forward and become a recognizable hub in Ohio and the Region. EEC is now led by Executive Director Deborah Hoover who had this to say about EEC’s future: “The future of EEC Ohio is looking bright! We are laser-focused on our core mission supporting students in achieving their entrepreneurial potential. With exciting new pilots and programs underway, growing membership, expanding community support, and a role in regional talent development, our organization is fulfilling its ambitious mandate to become the collegiate entrepreneurship hub for Northeast Ohio.”
Collectively, community partners across the city are working to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem with efforts like Tech Side Hustle, FutureLAND, and Workforce Connect. We are seeing large commitments to invest directly into marginalized communities and lead with diversity, equity, and inclusion.
One of the biggest challenges we face as a Region is talent retention and attraction. EEC serves as a vehicle between universities and the community for our college students. It is a critical piece to the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in NEO. Too often Cleveland is passed up by offers from Atlanta, Seattle, and Silicon Valley. These are challenges that leaders like Destination Cleveland and Team NEO are working together to combat. Nevertheless, up until this point there hasn’t been a collective move to support the growth, placement, and advancement of the FUTURE—our students. The Greater Cleveland area is home to some of the most elite universities in the world. It is home to one of the strongest healthcare communities, leading in lakefront development, and parks, voted top 10 for startups, art and culture, yet we can’t seem to hold on to our young talent!
I was able to ask Reka Barabas, Chief Relations Officer at ECC, “How have students been impacted by services that EEC offers?
“NEO college students who participate in EEC programs such as pitch competitions, accelerators, internships, and interviews often experience profound ‘Aha!’ moments. They discover the range of support and entrepreneurship resources available to them, make connections beyond their own campus, and start to picture their future self here.” - Barabas
EEC Ohio is stepping up to work to not only cultivate students, but to help students to find Cleveland as more than a place where they have studied, but a place to call home.
During my years in college, Cleveland State University became a second home for me. I remember playing my high school softball championship games right there at Viking Field at the age of 16. At the time, I had no idea how much of a pivotal role CSU would play in my grooming as a young professional. Under the leadership of the late Dr. Charylse Pratt, I was able to excel tremendously. She created a safe place for me to participate in new experiences, learn the importance of knowledge, and explore without limits. She encouraged me to pursue business more which led me to the business center on campus. With individuals like Colette Hart who is committed to the entrepreneurial spirit on campus, I had a clear direction.
Hart is the Senior Director of the Centers for Outreach and Engagement in the Monte Ahuja College of Business at CSU, she is also the Board President of EEC. I had a chance to ask her, “Why is it important to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit in college students?
“It is important that universities provide entrepreneurial academic and experiential learning activities to ensure students develop an entrepreneurial mindset. These activities are not limited to venture creation, they cultivate curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, and essential 21st century skills required in today’s workforce.” - Hart
I’m a firm believer in the ancient proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”. I can definitely testify to that statement because that has been my life’s journey. Many people have contributed to where I am in life, the success, and the lessons I’ve learned. I believe in the investment in young people not just because it is the right thing to do but because I can see the fruit of it. I am the fruit. Countless people have invested in me. Countless people poured into me which is a part of the reason why I am where I am today; reinvesting back into young people.
One thing I would like to leave you to think about is, how can you support our young talent in Northeast Ohio?
I’m glad you asked! Here are a few ways:
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any of the other phenomenal leaders, movers and shakers mentioned in this blog to get more connected to the movement taking place right now.
I would like to personally thank EEC Ohio for their dedication, enthusiasm, and leadership that continues to invest in students across our region. Even more so, I would like to thank you for investing in me. You played an instrumental role in my entrepreneurial journey, personal development, and overall experience as a college student.
I’m looking forward to impacting and investing in students with you and making Cleveland a premier destination for young entrepreneurs!
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