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Classroom Startup - Teaching Entrepreneurship

Author, marketer, and media consultant Simon Sinek famously argues, in his legendary TED Talk, that the likes of Steve Jobs, the Wright brothers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't become successful because they focused on how things are done or even what gets done. They started by asking why. His discussion of how great companies (in terms of Apple), great inventions (manned flight), and great social progress (MLK, Jr.) come about all revolves around the idea that "People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it." Business, like education, must come from a place of inspiration. No better lesson can begin the entrepreneurship curriculum than Sinek's mantra.

People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it. ~ Simon Sinek

Arguments for bringing entrepreneurship to the classroom are many. For the skills the discipline teaches: resourcefulness, grit, innovative and creative thinking (to name a few), entrepreneurial education is now used from public school classrooms to prison rehabilitation programs and its tenets are part of a wider view towards solving the greatest challenges facing society. Education Week touts educators' ability to impart "attitudes of initiative, intelligent risk-taking, and collaboration" to students while offering more realistic skills for the wider world. Papering the walls of so many classrooms and hallways is the common inspirational phrase, "failure is not an option." But like design thinking (something we blogged about when promoting maker space education), entrepreneurs are encouraged to fail, then get back up and make another iteration--this one incorporating the lessons learned from failure. Design. Test. Fail. Repeat.

Entrepreneur magazine lists 8 essential aspects of entrepreneurship that benefit the rest of us:

  1. Opportunity Recognition - Entrepreneurs see and often seek out opportunities. They can learn to see ways to make things better for themselves and others.
  2. Comfort with Risk - Learn to weigh and assess risk and become comfortable with the idea that investing time and resources in unsure enterprises and ideas has costs and benefits.
  3. Creativity and Innovation - Entrepreneurs are creative problem solvers. They apply unconventional tools and approaches to existing challenges.
  4. Future Orientation - Think about what’s next and take ownership of outcomes. Entrepreneurs are focused on achievement and reaching set goals for their ideas or themselves.
  5. Flexibility and Adaptability - Entrepreneurs not only learn to change, they expect to. They prepare for and react quickly to obstacles, setbacks, and new information.
  6. Initiative and Self-direction - Self-starters are motivated to reach their goals. They are more likely to meet a challenge directly rather than seek input or directive.
  7. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving - Analysis is key. Entrepreneurs learn to see challenges, opportunities and even products in their component parts. They make deep assessments accurately.
  8. Communication and Collaboration - Be better at sharing. Ideas and input from others spark and drive progress. Entrepreneurs communicate ideas clearly and passionately.
Resources for Teaching

There is a host of resources online for teaching entrepreneurship. It may be difficult for teachers to differentiate between resources geared toward potential business people and those looking to teach students essential skills. Here are some organizations that can help you get started. Youth Entrepreneurship is a guide from the Kansas City Federal ReserveThe National Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education has beginning tips at all levels. The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) has a free introductory course on entrepreneurship. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Four Corners Bell Ringer activity is a great way to get started.

"These Kids Mean Business" is a great documentary with lesson plans. Our friends over at the Georgia Council for Economic Education have lessons and workshops across the state. Economics teacher Greg Fisher offers a full lesson with downloadable materials. More lesson plans are available for teaching social entrepreneurship from PBS. Resources for all grade levels from Apex Striving as well as the Council for Economic Education are simple and straightforward. Here at Georgia Public Broadcasting, we've just released a virtual field trip covering five Georgia companies, their impact today, and their entrepreneurial roots. Finally, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' Entrepreneurship Speaker Series has simple and inspiring videos to summarize the experience or begin extension activities.

And going forward remember, as Henry Ford once said, "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." 

Michael serves as education outreach specialist at GPB. In his role, he provides support and training to educators on GPB’s digital resources, including the Georgia Studies digital textbook. Michael graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor's degree in Secondary Social Studies Education and attended a joint... more