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Entrepreneurship: Should we be teaching students life skills in the digital age?

Building Student Entrepreneurs - TeacherCast Guest Blog

You may have read the title of this article and thought, Why would I want to build entrepreneurs in my classroom? As an MBA and former educator whose day job is now with a tech startup, I ask you, Why wouldn’t you?

When you consider that many of the most successful startups began in business school, it stands to reason that in today’s world, students should begin their business ventures earlier. The earlier we encourage students to think beyond the high school classroom and even the college classroom, the better.

Secondary educators are uniquely poised to help students to build a business from start to finish, including seeing a passion blossom into a startup while building other necessary skills.

That Big Idea

There can’t be a startup without a big idea, and brainstorming is a great skill utilized in multiple classes, especially Language Arts classes. With the variety of methods, students can choose to brainstorm ideas alone or with a group of like-minded peers. For the tech-minded students and teachers, there are a variety of apps and tools for brainstorming and mind mapping.

Not only will your students practice the brainstorming skills they likely learned when they were younger, but they will learn creative thinking on a whole new level. Thinking like an entrepreneur requires that people solve problems. The best startups come from people who think they can do something better. Urge students to look to their personal passions for startup ideas.

The founders of Menlo App Academy were just 13 when they took their personal love of coding and turned it into a business. Colbert and Dillabough learned to code from their fathers but knew coding would be more exciting coming from their peers. Thus they started teaching their own classes.

Putting It Together

Once the idea is on paper, it’s time to create the business model. Econ and Language Arts teachers can coordinate business planning lessons to help students put these together. There are a number of downloadable templates for business planning, from the general to the niche-specific.

Business planning, no matter the level, teaches students critical thinking skills they might not otherwise gain in a standard critical thinking exercise. Entrepreneurs whose businesses struggle are the ones who plan for the short-term and not the long-term. A good business plan will force your teenaged entrepreneurs to look ahead at least five years, if not longer. There’s even an app for business planning.

Good business plans will also help students learn financial skills that will actually come in handy in the real world. Now that I have an MBA, that stock market exercise more than 20 years ago makes much more sense. When I was 18, however, I would have appreciated learning about managing loans, savings accounts, and income and losses. Even if your young entrepreneurs don’t take their startup ideas to the Melo App level, they will all have these financial responsibilities as they grow older.

Math and Econ teachers can integrate free accounting software and tools into their classrooms to help students manage the money they “make” from their entrepreneurial ventures. In order to gain those ventures, Speech and Debate educators should have fun with teaching students how to perfect a pitch. Mark Cuban offered his take on the perfect Shark Tank pitch to Huffington Post, and the advice holds true for nearly any pitch or even a speech or debate.

Getting It Out There

While a pitch is the start both financing the startup and getting it out there, it’s not the biggest part. As your young entrepreneurs have likely learned through their business planning, they have to build and manage a workforce and a customer base.

Every great educator models good leadership, but it never hurts to teach leadership skills along with management practices. As anyone who’s left a business can tell your students, it’s managers who get left, not businesses. Cultivating leaders rather than managers is a great business practice to teach high schoolers. Leaders are the empathetic, creative managers who encourage idea sharing and the innovation process in businesses, as well as the classroom. As entrepreneurs, they draw people to them.

Companies with good leaders will also draw loyal customers, but they also need marketing. Here’s where the creative arts and other technology classes come into play. Art classes can create brands designs and learn how to protect their intellectual property rights. Music classes can compose jingles for advertising. Computers classes can use GIS technology to map customer bases, similar to methods used by big box stores and grocery chains.

Above and Beyond

While building young entrepreneurs in the high school classroom is a great cross-discipline mock project, it could very well become something tangible for your students. There are multiple startup incubators aimed at high school students. Endevvr is academic based and aimed at bolstering business planning and market research concepts. Catapult is more like a true incubator, helping students take their ideas from infancy to pitch across five months and across the country.

Building entrepreneurs in high school through a project like this will not only bolster life skills your students can use elsewhere, it may help the world find the next tech giant. Work together to create your own entrepreneurial project for the school year, then encourage your students to shoot for the moon. Who knows what they might achieve?

Hattie James is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She recently completed her MBA and enjoys local ciders.

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