Be your own boss–an enticing dream that is achievable with honed business know-how. It’s a career journey that can actually start in school through programs that prepare learners for future entrepreneurship in a continually evolving workforce.

In the edWebinar “A Shark Tank State of Mind: Empowering an Entrepreneurial Mindset,” educators shared strategies for developing the capabilities and mindset students should embrace to become entrepreneurs.

Shaping and promoting entrepreneurship

A steadily changing job landscape is expanding the entrepreneurial pool, presenting unique career options for young people, noted Erica Hart, an EVERFI Community Engagement Manager. Learning business basics, management psychology, and entrepreneurial principles equips them with evergreen business competencies.

There are a host of tools and strategies that teachers can use to do this work. EVERFI’s web-based Venture Entrepreneurial Expedition is a good starting point. It teaches students how to build start-up capital, generate business ideas, conduct market research, pitch a product or service, and finance, market, and grow a business.

Teachers can easily incorporate Venture lessons into their entrepreneurship programs, as the panelists demonstrated.

Discovering career preferences

Deciding on the direction of a career journey begins with recognizing personal preferences. The panelists shared ideas to jump start this self-exploration.

Would You Rather is a game that encourages learners to think about the types of career experiences they want to have. Learners respond to questions probing, for example, whether they want to sit at a desk all day long or have the flexibility to move around. Usha Iype, 8th grade entrepreneurship teacher at Edison Middle School, IL, who uses this exercise, invites learners to research roles of interest and hear from entrepreneurs about their choices.
• The BOSI Survey allows learners to discover which of four entrepreneurial traits—builder, opportunist, specialist, innovator—they possess to inform the types of roles they might be best suited to in terms of duties. Patrick Bresnahan, entrepreneurship teacher at Hubble Middle School, IL, explained that once learners name their trait, they then assume corresponding roles in classroom-based job simulations.
True Colors is a personality-identification system that helps learners discover their personality types and what these suggest about career options.

Skills development

Venture features start-up simulations that enable learners to work from their traits and preferences to build leadership skills. Students assume different roles that require them to adhere to labor practices, hire and terminate staff, form strong teams, negotiate salaries, design marketing collateral, and assess product quality.

The project-based simulations also tap into myriad soft/interpersonal skills that successful entrepreneurs and leaders must master: conflict resolution, collaboration, communication, giving and receiving constructive and actionable feedback, goal setting, problem solving, determining priorities, managing accountability, and assessing product quality.

Market research

Discovering what the consumer needs and wants is an entrepreneurial must. Empathy shapes that understanding, explained Bresnahan. His students used it to determine the feasibility of manufacturing and selling water bottles made from plastic waste, and whether peers would buy them. Turns out they wouldn’t: They opted for a free promotional bottle or buying a Hydro Flask®. Their assumptions deflated, students took a step back to find out whether their peers thought plastic waste was a problem. If yes, would they spend money to solve it? The results of a second survey were more optimistic: Most would purchase a product made from recycled plastic—athletic apparel!

Customer discovery shows learners the importance of qualitative and quantitative data to isolate a target market. A survey created in Google Forms supports a quick response tally to shape a potential customer brand, said Bresnahan, who also has students create a competitive analysis chart to identify pricing strategies, product offerings, and purchase sites so they can differentiate themselves from others.

Janet Johnson, a CTE business and marketing teacher at Hickory High School, NC, runs a semester-long Shark-Tank type project that challenges students to come up with unique product selling points during brainstorming sessions. She urges them to learn what’s already out in the market that can help them shape a unique product that customers will want and sets them apart from competitors.

Creation, ideation, prototyping

Knowing what the customer wants leads to product design, which, learners discover, is a multi-step process. Iype introduces her students to design-thinking approaches that inform a solution to a problem:
IDEO’s 30 Circles exercise teaches learners how to ideate and recognize the struggle that comes with entrepreneurial creativity.
• In the Marshmallow Challenge, learners collaboratively build a structure with marshmallows and figure out along the way how to best configure it by testing and rebuilding based on actionable peer feedback.
Mock Ups is a game that involves learners in low-fidelity product prototyping, working from a customer profile and addressing design problem and constraints.

Students in Bresnahan’s classes work together in co-creation workshops (mirroring The Google Design Sprint) where they strategize, narrow down essential features of, and visually prototype a viable product in a short period of time.

Making it happen

Customer needs identified. Target market established. Product ideated and prototyped. Now what? Students learn and practice the essential planning, financing, and marketing steps involved in bringing their entrepreneurial brand alive.

There’s the preparing the pitch, which students can present to each other or even at school- or community-based events where they share ideas (hopefully convincing) with a range of stakeholders. Johnson’s students work with a local college where students deliver a five-minute elevator pitch to community and school leaders.

A Shark Tank state of mind: Empowering entrepreneurship

And if the idea is a good one? Then it’s time to take the venture to the next level. Johnson’s students establish SMART goals to drive a business plan. They ask financial questions: What are the expenses? How much do they need to pay themselves? They construct itemized budgets. Marketing plans materialize, which include branding design like logos and a website.

Entrepreneurship programs help learners build the most important business quality: a growth mindset. Grit and perseverance encourage them to fail up, learn from mistakes, and gain the confidence to be able to take entrepreneurial risks, preparing them to be their own boss down the road.

About the presenters

Usha Iype is a STEM Innovator certified teacher through the University of Iowa, Jacobson Institute, and teaches 8th grade entrepreneurship at Edison Middle School in Wheaton, IL. She also teaches Math 180 Labs, coaches 8th-grade Girls Volleyball, co-sponsors the Maker Monday Club, and has 20 years of teaching experience. Students enrolled in the semester-long entrepreneurship course have the opportunity to work in a collaborative environment in which student teams identify a problem within their school and the local community. Course goals include: validating proposed solutions and pivoting ideas based on customer discovery, problem-solving through collaboration and communication while nurturing a growth mindset. Through this process, students develop an understanding that failure produces opportunities for learning and success. The culminating activity of the entrepreneurship course requires students to pitch their business concepts to community and industry leaders during the annual District 200 Middle School Entrepreneurship Expo.

Patrick Bresnahan teaches entrepreneurship at Hubble Middle School in Warrenville, Illinois. Patrick launched his teaching career at DePaul University as an economic history teacher and literacy researcher in a community outreach program designed to prepare underserved urban high school students for college. Currently, Patrick concentrates on designing instructional environments that blend simulation and gamification techniques to engage students in developing the skills and perspectives needed to participate in real-world activities. Prior to teaching, Patrick worked for various financial institutions as a fixed income trader. He received a Bachelor of Arts in economics from DePaul University and he later returned to the university to obtain a Master of Arts in curriculum and instruction.

Janet Johnson is a CTE business and marketing teacher at Hickory High School in North Carolina. She has lived in North Carolina for most of her life and has been a teacher 15 of those years. As a teacher, her goal is to help students become successful and productive adults. Her students face many obstacles in their lives and teaching them real-world skills is one way she helps them learn to overcome. She prays and hopes that the information she teaches in her classes empowers her students to overcome whatever life may throw at them. She also has raised two successful daughters who are her pride and joy.

About the host

Erica Hart is a senior schools manager based in Kansas City. She has earned a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in educational technology. Before joining EVERFI, Erica was a business and entrepreneurship educator and DECA advisor for 5 years. Erica now helps to train and provide support to teachers and share the impact of EVERFI’s resources.

Join the community

College and Career Readiness is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net where educators can receive and share information about how to prepare students for college and careers.

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by EVERFI. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

About the Author:

Michele Israel writes about the ideas and best practices that are shared in edWeb’s edWebinars so they can spread innovative and best practices to the education community. Michele owns Michele Israel Consulting, LLC, which serves large and small educational, nonprofit, media, corporate, eLearning, and blended-learning organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans over 25 years of successfully developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals, and assisting in organizational and program development. In addition to lesson plans and other teacher resources, Michele’s portfolio includes published articles covering a range of educational and business topics.


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