More than a Business Class – an Actual Business
As I continue to reflect on the last 18 months, a lot has centered around my innovation project of creating a method of entrepreneurial education. While it is certainly not like my initial innovation plan http://jasonmkern.com/projects/entrepreneurial-track/entrepreneurial-initiative/ this semester has been one of the most rewarding in my 21 years as an educator. My innovation project has taken some significant alterations in implementation due to several factors but most notably a change in scenery. When I started this journey I was working at a school that was making good progress but had a stated mantra that “slow and steady wins the race.” As I developed my innovation plan I was definitely keeping that in mind and thus it had a several year progression to actually starting a business as part of the entrepreneurial track. Since then I have changed jobs to go work with someone who wholeheartedly believes in authentic learning for students. This summer we actually got an opportunity to remodel the second floor of the administration and library building into a Center for Innovation. One of the six key areas in this new space revolves around entrepreneurial education so we went from snail’s pace to jumping in with both feet which required a lot of alterations to my original plan. You can see a little more about the E-Cafe (E for entrepreneur) at https://www.all-saints.org/page/academics/center-for-innovation/e-cafe
One of my favorite things was seeing our students’ eyes when after literally 5 minutes of syllabus talk the first day we said, “You have 2 Keurigs, supplies for 300 cups of coffee, and two beverage coolers full of water…You owe rent in 2 weeks…What questions do you have?” It started off slow as it took them a couple minutes to understand that we were fully embracing the COVA model with them. Looking back I might have actually explained it using those terms but we really emphasized the authentic learning aspect. Once they realized we were serious and they had to figure out how to not only run a business but to do it in a week so they could pay rent in two, they started really getting into it. By the end of class we had a wall full of sticky notes with questions on them that we started pairing into categories. From there they formed 5 groups around Finance, Products, HR, Marketing and what we called Mobilization which was how to serve coffee in 4 more school days. They did so much learning and working those first days it was incredible. They continually would see me during that week and ask “Can we do this…” and I would respond, “I don’t know can you…” They started to realize that we weren’t their teachers, we were their business advisors and would help them in anyway we could but we weren’t going to tell them what to do. They successfully came up with a name, a menu, a pricing and marketing strategy and were able to serve their first cup of coffee 5 school days later. They negotiated rent and made their first payment a week later.
Since then they have collaborated with our Fabrication class to make signage for their cafe, The Morning Fix, as well as created their own designs for the displays in the cafe. Once they realized students weren’t big fans of straight black coffee, they conducted market research and began developing new products. They have had to make pitches to the landlord for to make improvements to their space as well as purchase new appliances for their new products while considering their cash flow. They have developed an inventory system and now order all their own products. They meet with their “bank” and have to reconcile their finances while realizing they need to have better accounting systems to track their assets and liabilities. As you can probably tell from my excitement, these kids are doing some amazing things and moving from learning to knowing. They make their own mistakes and have to deal with the consequences that arise from running a business with 15 other seniors in high school. It has truly been one of the coolest things I have ever done in education.
Next semester a new group will take over the business and spend a week or so evaluating everything that has been done before them and then decide what changes they want to make going forward. Then they will mold the cafe into what their vision is and make it even better and more efficient. Depending on how much progress they make we may have them come up with their own “bolt-on” business, such as designing and selling merchandise.
Some things that we are iterating as we speak includes moving students from the first established groups to product groups. So as of last week students are now in a group such as Frozen Coffee where they have to learn all aspects of finance, marketing and inventory. This spreads their knowledge over all aspects of the business. In the future I can see having multiple businesses running simultaneously on campus. So not only do they have to run the E-Cafe but then they also have to start their own business. This could more closely follow my innovation plan that starts with younger ages as right now demand for the class dictated that only seniors got in. We are also seeing that we could expand on our entrepreneurial spirit in other elective choices and develop almost a “minor” in entrepreneurism if they took certain electives. For example if you took Entrepreneur, Ethics, Stats, a blended learning business class and presented a capstone project you would be recognized at graduation with “entrepreneurial cords.” This concept could be expanded to other “minors” such as coding, engineering or the arts and thus allow us to be more intentional with our Upper School electives and give students an option to go above and beyond their normal diploma coursework in a particular area.
Our students are reflecting on the process through Google Docs during the year. This has not only allowed them to solidify their learning but also has helped us in iterating the class. As the semester winds down we will survey the students on their experience. We will utilize this information to continue to improve the learning environment and assure we are reaching our learning goals. I also plan to use this space to reflect on what I have learned throughout this process and hopefully help others who might want to try this with their students.
The biggest thing I want to do is promote and share our successes with this class more broadly. We are starting to create a video that will highlight the learning portion of the E-Cafe and I hope to share more on the process on my website. Also after going through the publishing class, I am looking for places to submit articles to about our experience. Finally I plan to submit to present the idea at some conferences in the future although I am already getting to present on aspects of it already. Overall while not exactly what I had planned from the beginning, my innovation project has morphed into something great.