Houston Community College’s Northwest College has an award-winning and growing entrepreneurship program. Attending community college is about more than just getting a degree these days, it’s finding your place in the economy. As president of HCC Northwest, Dr. Zachary Hodges says it’s his job to prepare his students to enter the workforce and then get out of the way.
Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at thebusinessmakers.com., brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. Coming to you today from Houston Community College Northwest, where my guest is the president here, Dr. Zachary Hodges. Zach, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Zachary: Yeah, thank you, Russ. Great to be here.
Russ: Well, it's great for me to be here as well. This place is a thriving hotbed of entrepreneurship. How did that happen?
Zachary: Well, there's a lot of activity for sure. You know, this has been a very successful campus. We're located right here at the beltway in Interstate 10, so a great location. And many people remember the Builder's Square and the AMC Theater, and we've converted that into a campus for 8,500 students, everyone interested in improving their lives, in finding their own niche. And certainly one of those niches that has evolved here at this campus is entrepreneurship. We have had an amazing pathway to kind of current way of thinking about that that I look forward to sharing with you today.
Russ: Well, I look forward to hearing about it too. But not only is there a lot of success here, but you personally were named the Entrepreneurial President of the Year by the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship. Congratulations on that. I assume that's quite an honor.
Zachary: Well, it is. It's humbling. You know, I've been president 20 years this May, and about I guess it's 7 years ago I was introduced to this concept of entrepreneurship, which really involves community capacity-building and the development of small businesses in our local community, but also the development of dreams and aspirations and finding ways for all folks to be successful, you know, really in a non-traditional way in higher education. So, you know, if you ask me what did I do right in all of this, is I listened to the business community and found a way to say yes.
Russ: That is really cool. You might not know this, but I've traveled all over the country, visiting quite a few of the entrepreneurship programs, and I've been to Babson, I've been to USC, UT, out at Rice, U of H. They all impress me, 'cause back when I was in school there wasn't such a thing as an entrepreneurship program, but this thing seems to be extraordinary here. Number one, you opened it up to early stage risk-taking startups as well as small businesses that are down the path for quite some time. Did that seem like the right course to take from the very beginning or did that evolve?
Zachary: Well, what happened was a group of business leaders and small business people that have been very successful came to me and said, "We have an idea. We want to make a difference in economic development in the Spring Branch community. What's evolved from that is my formula that human capacity-building equals economic development equals community development. It really is all about jobs, it's really about grassroots startup companies. My chamber of commerce speech is that, you know, this is about building, supporting, and sustaining the development of small business development in our community, whatever that takes. And the formula, the formula is to get out of the way, get out of the traditional higher education model and let the entrepreneurs do it for us in a structured kind of environment that works for higher ed a little bit, but primarily gives those small business owners or those small business dreamers the one-on-one mentoring that they need from entrepreneurs, not from professors, but from entrepreneurs, and give them that competitive advantage they need.
People have great ideas. People are motivated. But they lack the sophistication to understand what they need to do in a business sense to be in the mainstream, and that's what we give them.
Russ: Zach, that sounds so right-on to me and so pertinent to the times that we live in. When you hear these elected officials, and particularly in Washington, D.C. talk about creating jobs, I always get the feeling that they don't know what they're talking about. And right here, with what you're doing, with the people that you're doing it, has probably created thousands of jobs already.
Zachary: Yes, it has. And again, my chamber of commerce speech is, "Raise your hand if you believe jobs are created in Washington, D.C. by the federal government. They are for people in Washington, D.C."
Russ: Right. Right.
Zachary: Or do you believe that jobs are created for supporting and sustaining small business development or local communities. You know, this is about the grassroots. This is about not the top 2-percent at Babson or at Rice.
Zachary: This is about the 98-percent.
Russ: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Zachary: This is about being those people in front of them and taking them where they are with their dreams and aspirations and developing that with them and doing whatever it takes to make that happen.
Russ: Well, I love your comment about speaking at the chamber of commerce, asking who thinks jobs are created in Washington, D.C. They do make jobs there, but they're only taxpayer-funded jobs that aren't sustainable unless the business community is also at the same time making jobs. So that is really, really cool.
Zachary: Let me add one other aspect, a kind of a-ha experience I've had as a result of this. This is all about 21st Century thinking. I mean we're in a different age. It depends on what your toolkit looks like, what can you do, can you work in teams? Can you understand technology in a way that you can make it useful for yourself? It's about a whole different toolkit; it's not about a bachelor's degree anymore.
Russ: That's right.
Zachary: It's about how can you find your place and your niche within society, whether it's through a traditional route of higher ed, but it's also about being open-ended in your thinking, to where you can create as many possibilities for yourself and your family as you can. You know, that whole divergent thinking as opposed to convergent thinking is new thinking in a 21st century environment, where you run fast and loose and do things in a new way and build networks in a new way that are extremely creative and innovative, and people that can do that and have the grid and are hungry enough to do that are the ones that are going to thrive.
Russ: Well, that kind of thinking obviously has played a huge role in the success out here. Probably hadn't hurt that you're also doing this in Houston, Texas, which is kind of a - I mean the people that came to you in the beginning that had this idea, it's a very make-it-happen innovative community here.
Zachary: Well, let me also mention that I'm writing an article right now about we look at the Arab Spring in the Middle East. We're having our own Arab Spring. If you look around, employers are crying for skilled employees. We have disenfranchised disconnected people that are not a part of the job force and probably won't be. You know, we can have our own Arab Spring here because it's all about freedom and opportunity, and we better as a country figure that out. And the model of Houston, Texas and the spirit of Houston, Texas and the entrepreneurship thinking of Houston, Texas has put us in place to be the entrepreneurial international city of the 21st century. And so people are flocking here for opportunity. People don't come to Houston for the safety net; people come here for opportunity, and they're going to find it in the community college. So that's why I want us to create as many options around entrepreneurial thinking, but other options as well, to help people get onboard in this new 21st century economy, get jobs that are meaningful high-wage jobs, and again, human capacity-building equals economic development, everybody pays taxes and participates in the American dream, buys homes, and that's community development.
Russ: Absolutely. Well, all I've got to say, Zach, is I hope you keep doing what you're doing and keep thinking the way you're thinking.
Zachary: Well, and I hope people that are listening to this will get onboard, that they will get curious about what we're doing here. We've got an amazing staff, Center for Entrepreneurship staff here, who is very welcoming and we're learning as we go; we're evolving, our thinking is evolving. But you know what, Russ? We're on the right track.
Russ: I totally agree. Thank you so much for sharing the story with us.
Zachary: You're welcome.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Dr. Zachary Hodges, the President of Houston Community College Northwest. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio, seen online at thebusinessmakers.com, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.