Few of the students who enter the Entrepreneurship Program at Tarrant County College know anyone who owns a business of any size. As a result, students believe they have very limited opportunities. But by the time they complete the final course, they understand that they can empower themselves by creating value for others. “Their mindset is much different,” said Lourdes Ramboa, the Faculty and Chair for the Business and Entrepreneurship Programs. “I’ve seen that progression over and over again.”
Tarrant County College is one of the largest community colleges in the United States. There are 60,000 students at campuses across the Fort Worth, Texas, metro area. The student body is very racially and ethnically diverse.
With nearly 250 students, the college’s 15-year-old Entrepreneurship and Small Business Program is also one of the largest of its kind. For many participants, the program is a pathway to a second career. For others, it is a starting point straight out of high school. But, regardless of their age or work experience, most have low incomes and few financial assets.
Incoming students often believe entrepreneurship is a “quick game” to success, Ramboa said. And, they think all they need to succeed in it is more assets or the right mentor.
The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program was added to the course catalog in 2019. It exposes students to a different definition of entrepreneurship than they have heard in the business world: the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. At Tarrant County College, students encounter recurring themes from the Ice House model woven throughout their entrepreneurship courses, anchoring their understanding of the importance of choice, opportunity, action, knowledge, persistence, and the other eight life lessons.
For example, one of the courses Ramboa teaches is Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. It first focuses on economic models but then explores what role entrepreneurs—including social entrepreneurs—serve within a community. “Entrepreneurship is truly the engine that sparks the growth in any community,” she said. “And this younger generation loves, loves, loves the impact that social entrepreneurs make.”
In addition to challenging the notions of their internal assets, the Ice House model also encourages students to think more broadly about their mentors. “When they begin to think of mentors differently, it opens up the possibilities,” Ramboa said. “By the time they get to the capstone course, they are approaching industries with an awareness of who they can tap into.”
Ramboa said Tarrant County College students in the introductory Entrepreneurial Mindset course love the Ice House model because it reinforces positive behaviors. Also, it speaks to them about the possibility of making their ideas happen. In addition, individuals often utilize the Ice House lessons in more traditional work environments, even if they don’t stay in the Entrepreneurship Program after the initial course.
“Entrepreneurship is a path—and not a business path. It’s a path of knowledge,” Ramboa said.
Ramboa estimated that about 200 students completed the Entrepreneurship Program since it started in the fall of 2019. Only a handful have launched their businesses in the past year, but that’s mainly because of the pandemic. She expects a continued uptick in business startups as well as program enrollment. Already the program has grown from an average of 200 students per year to 250.
“Entrepreneurship always grows when there are crises,” Ramboa said. “If we look at 2008, we saw significant growth in entrepreneurship and startups. We’re seeing the same kind of growth this time.” Tarrant County College has positioned its students for success by arming them with the mindset that their current challenges are not a valid reason to stop pursuing their opportunities to solve problems for others and empower themselves in the process.