Entrepreneur Education to Save Our Dominance

Four weeks ago I was sitting at Sharon Park Starbucks in Menlo Park chatting with two colleagues about the currently ongoing Connected Educator Month. A young man with a Cheshire Cat grin approached our table with a, Yes, there are raffle tickets in my back pocket that I would like to sell you, look on his face.

“May I bother you for a moment?” He asked.

We must have looked uncertain because he pushed harder.

“I only want to ask you one question, and it won’t take more than thirty seconds.”

At this point a female friend of his appeared from behind him with a laptop.

One of my friends said, “Thirty seconds. Go.”

In his thirty seconds come five minutes, he asked us to give him our first reactions on a web page splash image that we soon came to understand would be the entree for both applicants and supporters of the newly hatched Upstart, an innovative crowd-funding concept that enables recent college grads to pursue their entrepreneurial passions by committing to give a small percentage of their future income to donors who provide financial backing for them to pursue non-job employment.

Inspired, at least in part, by the same thinking, and some of the same individuals, behind Peter Thiel’s 20 under 20, Upstart is the latest in a movement to inspire our nation’s brightest to invent the future instead of going to law school. It would seem that Christopher Hill’s 2007 essay, The Post Scientific Society, about how the United States will survive globalization by preparing a generation of design thinkers and entrepreneurs, speaks themes that resonate among The Valley elite. Entrepreneurial and design thinking have been themes in the conferences and talks, and certainly the hackathons I have attended this calendar year.

Last week I had the honor of sitting for coffee at the Backyard Cafe in Redwood City with Rob Schwartz, Executive Director of the Level Playing Field Institute. As busy as you would imagine an E.D. of a large nonprofit would be, Rob was making time to chat with me on his way to teach a class, funded by the Kaufman Foundation, on entrepreneurship to some of his SMASH academy fellows (under-represented high school students of color and high intellectual promise) at Stanford University. Later that same day Rob sent me a Prezi created by one of my future students at Sequoia High School, who also happens to be a SMASH fellow, outlining his goals for the next twelve years. Parallel to discovering the technology to manufacture synthetic body parts (after a stint at Siemens Medical Solutions Research Team – I wonder what corporate tours they did this summer ; )), Javier was mindful to include the progress of his family and birth of two future children.

Manufacturing is all but dead in the U.S.  If you agree with Yong Zhao that our greatest strength as a nation is our ability to innovate, then we might do well to incorporate more entrepreneurial preparation into the education of our children. Recognizing and fostering entrepreneurial skill might just buy us five more minutes on the global stage when our due may only be thirty seconds.

On a not entirely unrelated note, Monday, August 13th I will be attending as a speaker and participant in a Teacher Tech Talk event, hosted at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation Offices in Mountain View, Ca.  The topic is formative assessment. Team members from both Goorulearning and Mastery Connect will be there as well as some of The Valley’s most creative public and private school teachers. Please join us.

About Jack West

Teacher, team member, father, neighbor.

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