It’s one thing to sit through conference presentations designed to help you learn more about a field that interests you; it’s quite another to participate in a conference which offers you opportunities to practice what you’re learning—which is exactly what happened wonderfully, helpfully, and engagingly during the second half of the three-day 2018 EntreEd Forum near Pittsburgh over the weekend.
The conference, organized through EntreEd (the National Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education)—an organization dedicated to “providing advocacy, leadership, networking, technical assistance, and resources nationally for [entrepreneurship] students and teachers”—was an incredibly immersive experience from start to finish. It offered a perfect approach for a gathering of educators interested in learning how to more effectively incorporate entrepreneurship into the work we do with learners across the United States. We spent our first morning together in a Student Entrepreneurship Showcase that gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk with those budding entrepreneurs who were onsite to describe and sell products they had made in school. We began that first afternoon learning from Grable Foundation Executive Director Gregg Behr’s keynote address about the intersection of entrepreneurship, learning, and community in Pittsburgh, then spent time in breakout groups exploring a variety of topics related to embedding entrepreneurship training into every possible setting within our education system.
Another keynote address on the second morning was followed by our participation in a variety of breakout sessions facilitated by conference attendees. By the time we finished hearing the lunchtime keynote address delivered by Nick Staples, the young entrepreneur who created the quickly-growing West Virginia-based Zenergy Cycling company, we were primed for the moment of transition: when participants were given the afternoon to develop pitches for entrepreneurial projects to be funded through cash prizes during a pitch contest to be held on the final morning we were to be together.
EntreEd representatives worked with the prospective competitors throughout the afternoon to help them develop the five-minute pitches they would deliver the following morning. And, as is the case with any great learning opportunity, this one was firmly grounded in producing something that could not only be used during the pitch contest, but long after the prospective entrepreneurs returned to their communities regardless of whether they actually won any of the cash prizes ($1,000, $750, and $500) to be awarded.
Projects pitched onsite, after a final keynote session on Preparing Teachers & Students for the Future world of work, included:
*A snack cart offering students nutritious snacks throughout the day; snacks have informational nutrition tags so students learn while snacking
*VRJ (Viking Restorative Justice) program, featuring community business leaders working with students; students apply lessons learned to develop pitches to improve their school
*A program to support high-school students who have taken on role of primary caregivers at home and often have to skip their classes; funding would allow them to spend more time in school
*Creating Opportunities Youth Conference, a one-day conference by youths for youths to foster entrepreneurial skills
*Art through the Ages, for disadvantaged elementary school students (often homeless) to collaborate on creating art they can sell; products based on that art would be produced by middle-schoolers
*Entrepreneur Night, during which students could pitch and sell products they create themselves so they become aware of business opportunities in a county where employment opportunities are extremely limited
*The Collaboratory, a maker zone in a school library to allow students to explore, build and tinker in ways that would nurture essential workplace skills; the project was pitched as a catalyst for future change
*A program fostering entrepreneurship among those who have lost their jobs
*Appalachian STEMS: Blossoming STEM Interest Among Appalachian Girls to make them #STEMStrong
*Student-designed, student-produced Koozies created within the context of a school textiles class
*BBQ (Begin, Build, Quit), a proposal to create a community BBQ pit that becomes a meeting place and site for events to strengthen community that has a very high death rate from overdoses
When the three judges returned to announce the results, they provided an unexpected example of entrepreneurship in action: having decided that they could not make a decision between two equally strong second-prize candidates, one of them—Rebecca Corbin, Executive Director at The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE)—offered to provide a second $750 second-place cash award through her organization so that four educator-entrepreneurs could return to their communities with funding for their projects.
Seeing what will come from the efforts of the winners—which included the first-prize award to BBQ—will carry the work of the conference forward. Seeing what will come from sharing these ideas among our peers and others we know will extend, even more, the reach of EntreEd, the 2018 EntreEd Forum, and those who were inspired by the event.
N.B. – This is the third of three posts inspired by attendance at the2018 EntreEd Forum, near Pittsburgh. Next: Encouraging Teachers of Entrepreneurship to Work as Entrepreneurs