Who could’ve imagined what entrepreneurship was capable of?
“You don’t have to go,” Murray Woodard said to me, in his office, at Kauffman Scholars. He and Halley French invited me to join them, as they helped administer the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program for our high-school scholars. Joining them at the session wasn’t part of my job responsibilities, but I was curious.
“I know,” I said. “But if I don’t go tonight, then I’ll probably never know what students doing entrepreneurship really looks like.”
So I went.
I met Gary Schoeniger that night at the Kauffman Foundation. He was the Founder and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, the company who runs the program. He and I hit it off immediately over conversation around youth--adult partnerships and intergenerational learning environments. We spoke about the entrepreneurial mindset, how it develops through engaging the entrepreneurial process, and how everyone -- regardless of their upbringing, circumstances, or aspirations -- is capable of cultivating their own.
I didn’t know anything about the entrepreneurial mindset or about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship always seemed like some version of the lottery, where some people have the good ideas, but most of us don’t. And the entrepreneurial mindset? Well, that was obviously just what those lucky people willing to take risks had, not normal folks, like me.
I left that night pondering new questions about what entrepreneurship was, how entrepreneurship could be a force for learning, and why I had never considered its impact in education. Through dozens of books, articles, and videos, I actively sought suitable answers to those questions, which led me to insights and work I never could’ve imagined.
Today, several years later, I’ve come to understand that entrepreneurship in education is more than a just a business class or the newest bit of edubabble. Instead, entrepreneurship is a powerful force for learning, empowerment, and connection -- a powerful force we leverage at Real World Scholars.
At Real World Scholars, we immerse students in the entrepreneurial process, enabling them to start student-run businesses -- what we call EdCorps (Education Corporations) -- from their classrooms. We provide educators and students with a wide range of supports, from mentorship to digital resources, from technology to startup funding. We host all of the banking, so educators don’t need to worry about tax liabilities or purchase orders. This support helps teachers set up their own e-commerce websites, design and acquire business cards, and launch their businesses right from their classrooms. As a result, students and educators come up with real ideas, build real products and services, and sell to and serve real customers, which never ceases to impress me. Ultimately, classrooms are able to use their profits in whatever ways they choose, helping fellow students as they go off to college, giving back to their school directly, making a donation to local or national causes, or contributing to any other initiatives they care about.
In more than 200 classrooms, in 33 states, we’ve seen the incredible impact entrepreneurship can have for students, educators, schools, and communities:
Students who have tended to struggle with schoolwork have found their access point to learning and have flourished as a result.
Educators who have loathed returning to school after summer break are now clamoring to get back with their students, to grow their business.
Schools that have had difficulties getting students to join afterschool clubs are now having those slots filled by students who previously weren’t involved in anything.
Communities that were previously disconnected from the school are now having their food pantries stocked through the profits generated by EdCorps.
There was no way Real World Scholars could’ve predicted that entrepreneurship would’ve led to the results we’re seeing throughout the country. Similarly, there was no way I could’ve known that attending that session would’ve led me to where I am today.
But that’s okay. That’s part of the entrepreneurial process.
So what might this mean for Detroit? At this point, it’s tough to tell. One thing we know for sure, though: you won’t know until you go.
To learn more about how you can bring Real World Scholars to your school and community, visit www.realworldscholars.org, say hello to @RWScholars on Twitter, or contact Michael Crawford by email firstname.lastname@example.org.