Entrepreneurs and high school – Would you naturally think these go together? Utah thinks so. With the state’s rise to prominence in the startup world, the public school system is running to keep up. Utah’s rich heritage of large tech companies have spun off hundreds of new tech startups over the past two decades. This yielded a fertile crop of highly skilled workers including programmers, CTO’s, marketing experts and support staff.
Universities like Brigham Young University , University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Weber State, and Utah State University (among others) support this ecosystem with mature coursework and degrees targeting tech and entrepreneurship. As some of these companies contracted past their prime, really smart entrepreneurs were left pondering “the next big thing.”
Other industries raised crops of equally awesome entrepreneurs. The resulting positive business climate and the state’s positive financial standing relative to other states, leaves state leaders with the mandate to inspire entrepreneurial thinking before students reach college.
Some years back I was asked to participate in the Utah Governor’s Entrepreneur Roundtable at the Capitol. Required curriculum was the topic of the day. Since then, the ecosystem of business educators in high schools has been growing. This passed week, I had the chance to see how far they have come.
The beautiful Murray High School campus played host to the Utah CTE Conference (Career & Technical Education). I was asked to participate on an expert panel with some pretty awesome folks. Alex Lawrence is a serial entrepreneur who now serves as Vice Provost at Weber State University; Vincent Mikolay serves as a Managing Director in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED); & Jordan Marsillo serves in Affiliate Development for the Kauffman Institute FASTRAC program. Each brought an insight that gives dimension to the education challenges facing teachers in the room.
The conference theme “SHIFT Happens-Enbrace Change” certainly is the world in which aspiring student entrepreneurs find themselves. The objectives for students are as follows:
Our vision is an educational environment in Utah where students’ K-12 learning experience will provide an understanding of economics sufficient to make informed choices as consumers, producers, and citizens.
To teach Utah K-12 students to apply the “Economic Way of Thinking” to career, financial, societal, and personal decisions.
- People choose.
- People’s choices involve costs.
- People’s choices have consequences that may be immediate or lie in the future.
- People respond to incentives in predictable ways.
- People create economic systems that influence individual choices and incentives.
- People gain when they trade voluntarily.
While I would say these objectives are very broad and the number of educators focused on entrepreneurs in high school is small, I see a terrific role for high school educators in producing more, better prepared aspiring business owners. Committed teachers like Karsten Walker are making it happen.
From my panel chair, what struck me as one of the biggest challenges facing high school teachers of entrepreneurship is inspiring participation among students. Interestingly enough, the panelists seem to agree that teachers must get students out of the lab and into the field. There, students must wrestle with finding real consumer pain and discover ways to relieve it. They must collaborate with real customers, business leaders, and classmates to develop new ways of thinking while turning ideas into real products and services
My biggest hope for High School entrepreneurs is to learn to “think outside the box,” perhaps smashing the box altogether. Their answers to our most perplexing problems hold the proverbial keys to our business and economic future.
Do you have a cool entrepreneur program you can share?
Interesting High School Entrepreneurs: