Poder: The Power of Creating Win-Win Partnerships with Community Colleges

Guest Contribution By: Bruce McHenry

In January 2016, Arizona State University Entrepreneurship + Innovation received grant funding from the Cisco corporate advised fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation to create a three-year pilot program called Poder.  Poder (Spanish for “to be able to” and “power”) is a free, five-week training developed to serve underserved communities in the areas of entrepreneurship and digitization skills. The program started during the spring 2016 semester with South Mountain as the pilot community college, 25 students participated.  Since then, Poder has expanded to five of the ten Maricopa Community Colleges with the potential of offering this training to over 300 students through fall 2018.

In addition to the Poder training, the grant supports a local Cisco Innovation Challenge.  The Challenge is a judged venture pitch competition running twice a year, emphasizing the Internet of Things (IoT).  The prize pool for each competition is $5,000 first place, $3,000 second place, and $2,000 third place – serious money for student entrepreneurs!  In the first two competitions during 2016 South Mountain students won $15,000 of the $20,000 awarded.

“True to its name, Poder is an empowering program for those in the idea or start-up phase of entrepreneurship,” said Kerry Taft, a spring 2016 Poder student-entrepreneur, and 2nd place winner in the Cisco Innovation Challenge. “I am in the growth phase with my business and was still able to learn some new, creative ways of looking at entrepreneurship.”  In addition, Kerry Taft was able to use her prize to buy more equipment and increase her service to her customers. Toya Phillips, a Cisco Innovation Challenge winner in December, 2016 is using her funds to cover regulatory and compliance costs of bringing her products to market.

South Mountain has been hosting venture pitch competitions since 2014, with prize pools of $2,500.  The Partnership with ASU, Cisco, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation offers greater leverage to impact students and the community.  The Cisco Innovation Challenge prize pool of $10,000 increases the leverage of the community college entrepreneurial programs.  With larger resources, and a defined pipeline of community college – university – community, students have a larger entrepreneurial eco-system to draw support, and may continue to innovate and enhance their business offerings.  Kerry, Toya, and other Cisco Innovation Challenge winners can move to market faster, increasing their chances of successful launch, growth, and job creation.

The collaboration with Arizona State University, Cisco, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation is an example of a win-win partnership. South Mountain and the other Maricopa Community Colleges leverage more resources and opportunities for students and entrepreneurs.  Arizona State University gains more access and marketing opportunities for potential transfer students.  The community benefits from a stronger local entrepreneurial eco-system and increased economic development and job creation.

Bruce McHenry, SMCC

Bruce McHenry, SMCC


Bruce McHenry became a serial entrepreneur starting and developing 4 different companies after 25 years in Fortune 500 companies. When an opportunity opened Bruce became an academic entrepreneur to advance innovation in higher education.   As Business Faculty and Director of the Community Entrepreneurship Center, Bruce is champion of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial mindset at South Mountain Community College.

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