A Proposition for Expanded Entrepreneurial Experience

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. ~ Mark Twain

As I scroll through my Twitter and RSS feeds, a single day does not go by where I do not  see a headline about the enormous social and intellectual benefits of entrepreneurship in education.

The STEM movement’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been a positive innovation for our field. The addition of “design thinking” to our educational mindset has resulted in increased opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurialism in our educational settings. Design thinking helps us process authentic problems for our students to solve, opportunities for creative thinking to evolve and productive collaboration in any subject matter content.

We have actively endeavored to integrate entrepreneurial thinking in many of our classrooms, but where are we giving students the opportunity to truly BE entrepreneurs?  That is the question I have been wrestling with as a P-12 education leader.

Can We Teach Students to Be Entrepreneurs?

Angus Chen explains Why the Typical Business School Class Can Never Teach You to Be an Entrepreneur. He says colleges and universities are facing what many would say is a potentially unsolvable problem. They’re trying to train the next crop of entrepreneurs through programs and coursework that just won’t be enough to really teach someone how to be an entrepreneur.

People like Victor Hwang, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, claim there’s just no replacement for real world experience. The only way to become an entrepreneur is to go out and do it.

A recent Gallup poll suggests that many students in the U.S. have entrepreneurial aspirations and energy that could help drive future job creation in the country. Nearly 8 in 10 students (77%) in grades 5 through 12 say they want to be their own boss, 45% say they plan to start their own business, and 42% say they will invent something that changes the world.

Despite their energy and ambitions, the Gallup-HOPE Index findings suggest many students are not accessing the education and work experience they need to help achieve their goals. Few report getting the type of practical knowledge and experiences that they believe will be useful once they are in the workforce.

It’s time to intentionally provide our students opportunities to actively engage entrepreneurial experience and refine our current high school business and marketing classes to ensure what our students are learning is reflective of best business practice.

Using Lean Start Up Methodology in High School Entrepreneurship Courses

According to Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh, 75% of all business start-ups fail. Author Steve Blank for the Harvard Business Review thinks the old game of “hit and miss” may finally have a a new twist. He believes the Lean Start Up methodology is a game-changer and it is starting to turn conventional wisdom about entrepreneurialism on its head.

Recently an important countervailing force has emerged, one that can make the process of starting a company less risky. It’s a methodology called the “lean start-up,” and it favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development. Although the methodology is just a few years old, its concepts—such as “minimum viable product” and “pivoting”—have quickly taken root in the start-up world, and business schools have already begun adapting their curricula to teach them.

According to Eric Ries, founder of the Lean Start Up methodology, “Startup success can be engineered by following the process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.” The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing business startups and in order to get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.

Business leaders in the Chicago suburb of Barrington worked with the educator leaders in Barrington High School to develop a new course called Business Incubator Start Up. This course was purposefully developed to get students excited about becoming entrepreneurs. Students enrolled in the class will have the opportunity to create and fully develop their own product or service. Real-world entrepreneurs and business experts will serve as coaches and mentors guiding student teams through the process of ideation, market research, and business plan development.

Over the course of the year, student teams will learn about marketing, accounting, human resources, as well as the legal aspects of running a business to get them geared up for Pitch Week. Pitch Week helps to further fire the entrepreneurial spirit by putting student teams in front of actual investors to pitch their innovative idea and possibly win funding to turn their business plans into reality during the summer and following school year.

Watch this video describing Barrington’s approach to engaging their students in the authentic entrepreneurial learning:

Should We Provide Programs to Teach Students How to Be Entrepreneurs?

According to Startup Colorado, a regional consortium of entrepreneurs who share a vision of expanding entrepreneurship along the Front Range is shaping up to be a true entrepreneurial powerhouse. Sasha Galbraith warns in a recent article for Forbes Magazine, “Watch Out Silicon Valley! Colorado Primed to Emerge as the Next Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Burt Helm describes in his INC. article How Boulder Became America’s Startup Capital.

Colorado universities have stepped up and revised their courses and departments to provide their students with top notch access to innovative business education programming. Many universities have developed partnerships with businesses to spark innovation and entrepreneurship, like Colorado State University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship which teamed up with Blue Ocean Enterprises to create Venture Fest and Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge to ignite entrepreneurial spirits, attract and recognize the best new business ideas, and celebrate the Fort Collins and Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem.

But, innovation and interest in entrepreneurial learning isn’t merely a fascination in the USA. Entrepreneurship education is increasingly promoted in Europe, according to a new report published by the European Commission. Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Wales and the Flemish part of Belgium have all outlined national strategies to promote entrepreneurship education, while Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey have recently included it as part of their national lifelong learning, youth or growth strategies. Currently, 50% of European countries are involved in a process of national education reforms which include the strengthening of entrepreneurship education in their public school systems.

The time is now to critically review the opportunities available in our schools to ensure that students have access to top notch entrepreneurial learning experiences, ones that engage them with local mentors and subject matter experts, and give them the chance to take healthy learning risks while they are in the supportive environment of their schools and local communities.

Let’s give our students a chance to showcase their skills and talents on the entrepreneurial environment!

LHS DECA Award Winners
Loveland High School DECA Winners pose with their championship medals at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs

One thought on “A Proposition for Expanded Entrepreneurial Experience

  1. I love all of your thoughts in this post and support adding or infusing STEM education with the ideas and principles of entrepreneurship. This practice truly gives students an opportunity to use and apply their knowledge and create something new. It takes learning the concepts so much further with enabling students to critically think, allow and encourage creativity. All I can say is more please!

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