Growth of Entrepreneurship in Higher Ed

Deshpande Symposium

Last week I attended the 6th annual Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education. The event, co-sponsored by UMass Lowell and the Deshpande Foundation, brought together like-minded practitioners focused on accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship across the college and university landscape. It was a collection of thought-leaders, campus staff, and education entrepreneurs all focused on the WHAT, HOW and WHY of entrepreneurship education.

Some Symposium Highlights from Keynote Speaker, Jerry Engel, a leader in entrepreneurship education at UC Berkeley:

  • Entrepreneurship is ubiquitous in our society. Over the last 30 years there's been a major uptick in entrepreneurship and its become an accepted social value. 
  • There are many opportunities to embed more entrepreneurship and innovation on a campus including majors and minors, clubs, competitions, accelerator/incubator spaces and increased focus on experiential learning (more on this juicy topic in a future article).
  • Entrepreneurship is a critical like skill. Students need to learn how create their own job (Check out JobHack, a free online entrepreneurship challenge that teachers you the practical skills of creating your own job).
  • Social media has led to disruption because no one is in charge. Disruption equals opportunity.
  • There is increased demand for Social Entrepreneurship.
  • Entrepreneurship happens in clusters, which requires people that are engaged in the ecosystem and companies that don't fit traditional molds.
  • The Innovation Process is available to all of us.
  • A key challenge for higher ed institutions, which have traditionally been centers of research, is finding ways to stimulate commercialization of these ideas.
  • Startup success is not defined by getting Venture Capital funding. There are plenty of great businesses that aren't appropriate for this kind of scale and financial backing.

Why this Matters:

There are many opinions on WHAT, HOW and WHY we educate students. One, of many, reasons is to help prepare them for their future career(s) so they can live independent and productive lives. The Deshpande Symposium reinforced for me that colleges are slowly, yet surely, recognizing that preparing students to think and act like entrepreneurs (or intrapreneurs) is a key role of their institution. In fact, there's been a dramatic increase in Entrepreneurship Education and Training (EET) courses on college campuses (TechCrunch article, "How Colleges are Becoming Entrepreneurial"). And, when colleges adapt, that gradually trickles down to our high schools and middle schools. As a proponent of entrepreneurship education, this is great news...but also leads to more questions.

What does quality entrepreneurship education look and feel like?

Turns out, there's lots of debate over how best to teach entrepreneurship education (although we have moved on from the question of whether or not you CAN teach people to be entrepreneurs - it's a yes). There are many different EET theories, and a "great lack of knowledge on which interventions and approaches work best for their given context and aims" (read more from The Kauffman Foundation's "Entrepreneurship Education and Training Blog").

Kauffman Logo

But all hope is not lost as The Kauffman Foundation, a leader for entrepreneurship education and resources, is on the case! The organization is focused on strengthening EET by identifying core outcomes (mindsets, capabilities, status and performance) to determine best practices in program characteristics, context and participations, as well as evaluate impact. The goal is to understand more about the WHAT, HOW and WHY, in order to scale high quality EET for everyone. 

Entrepreneurship Education and Training in Boston:

As one of the US's Innovation Hubs, Boston-based colleges and universities have clearly drank the EET Kool-Aid. Each campus has its own unique entrepreneurship flavor and focus, and many efforts are being made to create more cross-pollination of students and programs. Take a look at SOME of the schools and their different approaches to entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Map of Boston Colleges

Babson College: the educator, convener and thought-leader for Entrepreneurship of All Kinds.
Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship: the epicenter of entrepreneurial activity at Babson.

Berklee College of Music: the premier music college and performing arts conservatory.
Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship: a space for mentorship and development of new ideas.

Boston College: a leader in the liberal arts, scientific inquiry, and student formation.
Shea Center for Entrepreneurship: integrating entrepreneurial thinking into the education and formational experiences of undergraduate and graduate students.

Boston University: a leading private research institution with two primary campuses in the heart of Boston and programs around the world.
BuZZ Lab: home to entrepreneurship programs, student clubs and BU students/alumni startups.

Harvard University: devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally.
Innovation Lab: fosters innovation and entrepreneurship across Harvard.

MIT: advancing knowledge and educating students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world.
Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship: teaching people how to create companies.

Northeastern University: a global, experiential, research university built on a tradition of engagement with the world, creating a distinctive approach to education.
IDEA: Northeastern University's student-led Venture Accelerator.

Olin College: a new kind of engineering college.
The Olin Foundry: working to foster and promote entrepreneurship through education, experience and employment opportunities.

Tufts University: a premier university dedicated to educating new leaders for a changing world.
Gordon Institute: part of the School of Engineering that aims to foster and inspire individuals to become leaders that can address the challenges of the 21st century.

UMass Lowell: a national research university committed to preparing students for work in the real world - solving real problems and helping real people - by providing affordable, high-quality education.
Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship: offers start up labs and space, idea competitions and resources that help inventors bring ideas to market.

5 Key Elements for Youth Empowerment

Million Dollar Question: Why do we have schools?!

We believe schools are meant to fully prepare students for future success

That's a really broad vision and leads to some major quagmires that educators (and everyone else) continue to debate, and will likely never stop debating. It leads to some more thought-provoking questions to examine:

  • How do we define success?
  • Success at what? Being happy? Living healthy lives? Being financial independent or engaged citizens that solve messy problems?
  • What does success include? Should we focus on content knowledge, specific skills, a mindset?
  • How do we know what success looks like?
  • And on, and on, and on

These are really important questions to ask and explore. We believe education should be all of things and more. 

We see it as, "Yes, and..."

One of the most important skills we can equip students with is a sense of self-empowerment. Empowerment is the ability, and courage, to dive into any challenge without waiting for permission from someone else. It’s the drive to take a project, initiative, or crazy idea even when we lack information or resource. It is the willingness to try, to learn from our mistakes, and to be persistent.

We encourage students to be doers. In the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, we push students to be the change they want to see in the world. We call this empowerment, but it can go by many names including agency, action, leadership, or grit (and plenty more).

How do we create opportunities for student empowerment?

Through our work with students, we believe there are 5 key elements for creating empowering learning experiences:

2-day Epiic Solutions Entrepreneurship Workshop with teens from Subiré High School. Mexico

2-day Epiic Solutions Entrepreneurship Workshop with teens from Subiré High School. Mexico

  1. Student-Driven:
    There’s nothing quite like the motivation that comes from digging into a topic or problem you’re truly curious and/or passionate about. This internal motivation is the driving force to continue down meandering paths and fully immerse ourselves in the work. Help students figure out what lights them up by giving them opportunities to ask lots of questions, discuss ideas with others, and explore many different interests before deciding on a juicy project/topic.
    Learn more about motivation from one of our favorite authors, Daniel Pink.
  2. Opportunity to Stretch Knowledge and Skills:
    We all love a challenge – it’s why our culture (and many education tools) are all about gamification. The key to a game is that it’s just a little bit beyond what we’re capable of doing. We die over and over again, but rather than get discouraged, we keep trying until we finally learn enough to achieve our goal. Empower students to stretch themselves in the same way. There’s no way teachers can possibly provide ALL the information or skills students need to dig into meaty topics in advance, especially if it’s a student-driven topic. A great way to empower students is to hand over the responsibility of finding the information and building the skills they need as they encounter roadblocks.
    A little secret - it turns out that not needing to be the keeper of information is really empowering for educators too. Embrace Elsa’s wise words and “Let it Go.”
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice:
    Unfortunately, this does not happen overnight. As in any skill, students need ample opportunities to practice being empowered. Start small and find ways to build in more student choice and self-directed learning opportunities. Help students strengthen their empowerment muscle by providing authentic ways to apply skills and seek new knowledge, where the student gradually takes on more and more of the responsibility.
  4. Support from Experienced Mentors (Adults and Peers):
    Even as students take on more of a role in their learning, they still need help and guidance. One of the best ways you can empower students is to become a resource and sounding board. Bring in mentors from outside the school that can help fill in some of the student knowledge and/or skill gaps and be a devil’s advocate. Best of all, encourage students to seek support from their peers! After all, the best way to demonstrate you know something is to teach it to others.
  5. Share in an Authentic Way:
    Give students an opportunity to share what they’ve accomplished with an authentic population outside of their classroom. This could include community presentations, a blog or website that documents what they’ve learned, presenting work to local a company and more! Showcase and celebrate what students have accomplished, and focus more on the process and learning than just the final product. Student confidence blossoms when they believe their voice and work matters.

Two Prime Examples of Youth Empowerment in Action:

Last weekend Epiic Solutions was invited to participate in MetroHack’s high school hackathon. This completely student-organized event attracted over 250 teens from New England and beyond (some even flew in from Europe). It was an extremely impressive learning experience that reinforced the value and impact of youth empowerment, both for the leadership team and the participants. Students formed their own teams, picked an interesting and engaging problem to tackle, and developed an innovative tech solution – all within 24 hours! The leadership team organized the sponsorship, engaged local mentors and judges, and provided tech support for beginning hackers. From first-time hackers to returning veterans, everyone was all-in.

Over 250+ teens participated in MetroHack's 2nd Annual Hackathon in Boston

Over 250+ teens participated in MetroHack's 2nd Annual Hackathon in Boston

IMPACT Philly Project:
We also recently spoke with two teachers from Mercy Vocational High School, Lori and Mary,  to learn more their Business track and 10th/11th grade program, IMPACT Philly Project. Over the two years, students are exposed to the design thinking process and given more and more independence as they explore a community issue they are passionate about. Through partnerships with various community organizations, students dig deeper into the problem and challenges with current solutions; work together to build prototypes of innovative solutions, and collaborate with other teachers and peers to bring these ideas to life. While Lori and Mary provide some constraints and parameters, students are given flexible project milestones that empower them take projects in any direction.
Learn more on the Mercy CTE Business blog

Empowering Students with Design Thinking

Empowering Students with Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a process to explore open-ended, ill-structured problems and it’s an awesome tool to share with students.

Why? We believe the Design Thinking process is the best framework to teach students how to dig into big, messy problems - the types of problems that entrepreneurs try to solve for their customers everyday. But it’s more than an entrepreneurial process - the Design Thinking process reflects strategies everyone in the real world, regardless of their profession, uses to approach problems and come up with innovative ideas.

Read More

Why should teens become entrepreneurs?

Why should teens become entrepreneurs?

A better question is, why shouldn’t teens become entrepreneurs?

Teaching students how to think and act like entrepreneurs, regardless of whether they plan to start a business or not, will help them foster creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, communications and leadership skills. Entrepreneurship empowers students with agency so they can be the change they want to see in the world.

4 reasons why we love entrepreneurs:
Entrepreneurs are problem solvers, doers, tenacious and drive our economy.

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