January 22, 2024
Meaningful entrepreneurship education is not about churning out student entrepreneurs, but rather empowering students with the tools they need to think like entrepreneurs. This means helping students develop resilience in a day and age when durable, human skills are becoming more and more essential. It means self-awareness, collaboration, creative problem solving, and emotional intelligence.
Perhaps chief among these is a bias for action. One of the core differentiators between people who think like entrepreneurs and those who don’t is willingness to take action. Whether we call it paralysis of analysis or the fear of failure, not taking action is the cause for many missed opportunities.
It is worth asking whether or not we, as educators, are biased for action. Are we ready to develop programming that instills the entrepreneurial mindset in our students? Are we ready for the work of thinking outside the box to engage students in hands-on learning through innovative approaches? These were questions I had to ask myself years ago when I was asked to help students facilitate our fledgling business of a rolling coffee cart.
Little did I know that the rolling coffee cart would turn into a fully developed program overseen by six full time faculty members complete with fifteen elective courses, six student-run businesses, and a certificate track. In addition to developing an entrepreneurship and sustainability program over the last ten years at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, I’ve also worked with school leaders around the nation to launch similar programs and have come to understand that there are a few basic requirements to get started.
First, you need a point person. Someone at the school must spearhead the program by teaching the foundations class, overseeing the initial business, and hyping the program to students, parents, and donors. This person is usually a current teacher. Look for someone who is a go-getter, who is beloved by students, and who embodies the role of what Liz Wiseman would call an impact player. The teacher’s current subject matter is far less important than the teacher’s mindset—if they demonstrate resilience and a bias for action, then the program is sure to take off.
Next, you need a plan. Don’t just consider the short-term programming; instead, focus on the long-term goals of the program and how it will grow over the next three to five years. If you plan now for multiple classes and several businesses, it will be easier to expand when the time comes. Consider the layout of the class, the curriculum to be taught, and the launch of the initial business.
And don’t forget to consider the attributes the students will develop as a result of the experience. In learning to think like an entrepreneur, students will develop a growth mindset focused on directed growth alongside a clear mission, an inspiring vision, and solid core values. They will understand that effort is worth more than talent and that when that effort is coupled with time and dedication, they can improve in any ability. Growth mindset will create a natural pathway for the development of grit which Angela Duckworth, the nationally recognized expert on the subject, defines as the combination of passion with perseverance applied toward long-term goals. In other words, as students work to set and achieve goals, grit becomes the byproduct. This development of grit leads to an ownership mentality which builds self-confidence as the students work to ideate, create, launch, and grow businesses on the campus.
And what businesses they will create!
After the successful launch of our coffee bar, our student entrepreneurship teams launched a smoothie and breakfast café, a wood-fired pizza oven concept, a greenhouse business specializing in fresh produce with curbside pickup, a video marketing business, and the world’s first fine dining restaurant located in a high school teaching kitchen. You can read more about these concepts here.
Once you have a sense for where the program is heading, you are ready for the final step: securing the funding. While the program will, in the long-term, return far more to the school financially through revenue streams and increased enrollment, there is initial start-up cost involved. Don’t skimp on this part—while the start can be as lean as possible, there must still be room to cover expenses.
Once you have these three things in place (the person, the plan, the money) then you are ready to advertise this program to a key group of students. Look for a group of eight to twelve students to spearhead the program and launch the first business—you don’t want to start with a massive group but rather start small to build the excitement.
If you’re looking for help to find the point person, clarify the plan, or put other pieces in place, reach out—I’m here to ensure the success of your launch through consulting, speaking, coaching, and curriculum specific to K-12 entrepreneurship.
You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Stephen Carter for Intrepid Ed News.