Certified Entrepreneurial Communities

What's a CEC®?

The brainchild of AdvantageWest Economic Development Group, a Certified Entrepreneurial Community (CEC®) is an economic development strategy—a program that helps communities (towns, areas, and counties) become entrepreneur ready. That means the overall business climate, policies, regulations, and opportunities to learn and grow are simple to find and available. It also means there's a positive, enthusiastic attitude that permeates the culture. One that asks “how can we help you start and succeed at business?” A Certified Entrepreneurial Community is one of economic opportunity for entrepreneurs.

How it began

The idea for CEC® came from AdvantageWest economic development best practices in the early 2000s. Even then, the group realized the future of this region must include entrepreneurs, and so they diversified, forming the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council (BREC), followed shortly by Western North Carolina's first angel investor network, Blue Ridge Angel Investor Network (BRAIN).

Demand for entrepreneurial services grew quickly, and AdvantageWest saw an underserved entrepreneurial market segment. Local farmers and food entrepreneurs needed a kitchen incubator. Blue Ridge Food Ventures is just that—it's an 11,000 square foot food and natural products processing facility that offers excellent resources for budding entrepreneurs.

Having these resources in place was good. But AdvantageWest also realized that entrepreneurship is best nurtured on a local grass roots level. This aha moment was the genesis of CEC®—an effort to get local leadership involved, to create local teams that welcome and work with entrepreneurs. This economic development strategy is integral to the growth of our communities. To assure total buy-in to the program, communities that go through the process must secure a resolution from their governing boards endorsing the program.

Youth engagement is an integral component of the CEC®. Continuously exploring new and innovative approaches to encourage the innovative talents of the youth and retain this talent in the region, AdvantageWest along with Western Carolina University, Appalachian State University and local technology company, DigitalChalk created a collegiate competition, Juicy Ideas. The program started by AdvantageWest in partnership with local technology company DigitalChalk soon became a national competition supported by Google.

Certification nuts and bolts

The certification guarantees that everything's in place; that resources are easy to find and the people behind them are helpful, friendly, and eager to help. There are five steps in the process. They include:

  • assuring that the community is committed to the process
  • assessing the community's current entrepreneurial landscape
  • creating a comprehensive strategy for entrepreneurial growth
  • marshaling the community's entrepreneurial resources
  • identifying and nurturing the community's most promising entrepreneurial talents

The process requires a team of community leaders—representatives from local government, educators, business people and established entrepreneurs are usually the core team. The process typically takes 18 months to two years. A guidebook developed by AdvantageWest is used to work through these steps.

The community is prepared to present when it has completed a comprehensive book detailing all the work above including goals and metrics they set forth on behalf of their respective community. That book and the process are reviewed by a certification review committee made up of leaders from the US Small Business Administration, The NC Small Business and Technology Development Council (SBTDC), Banking and Finance Executive, Venture Capitalist, as well as two entrepreneurial companies and AdvantageWest Board Directors for official certification.

To learn more about the CEC® program and how to make entrepreneurism a focus of your economic development strategy, contact Emily Breedlove, Entrepreneurship Program Manager at AdvantageWest. 

The Certified Entrepreneurial Community Program® has been funded in part by grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). SBA’s funding should not be construed as an endorsement of any products, opinions, or services. All SBA-funded projects are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis.