The job market of our next generation is shifting from finding a job (50 percent of college graduates no longer being able to do that) to creating jobs. Even within a large corporation, you're now expected to create value, take initiative and invent "jobs" within a company. Many of the jobs current high school students will have 10 years from now have not even been invented yet. Thus it's never been a more important time to teach students how to recognize and create their own opportunities. It's a critical skill to have whether they end up working for themselves or for a large corporation.
With my own kids (ages five, 10 and 12), I've tried to bring these types of learning to them by creating an informal young makers club in my home hiring a MIT Media Lab graduate to run a weekly after school program. During these sessions, kids make their own video games using the Scratch programming language, build robots with Arduino circuit boards and soldering and create product designs using a 3D Printer. I've tried to expose my kids to the wonderful experiential and informal learning as represented by the 'maker movement' and the like.
Being actively involved in the start up community as Managing Director for the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator powered by TechStars, I've seen firsthand what powerful learning experiences these programs are for a wide range of people. I began to wonder: Why not provide these types of immersive learning experiences to middle and high students? Startup Weekend and accelerator programs are some of the most powerful learning experiences available to anybody no matter what their age. After speaking to Andy Moss and Bill Gordon, both highly successful entrepreneurs who currently run Lean Launch Ventures, a new start up accelerator opened in partnership with Connecticut Innovations, we decided to create an immersive program for students. This summer 'Entrepreneur Bootcamp' will offer middle and high school students the tools and mentorship to launch a real business. Our curriculum consists of the lean methodology, design thinking, the validation board, and the business model canvas. These tools teach critical 21st century skills of entrepreneurship. The Innovator's DNA, co-authored by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, focus in on five 'discovery skills' possessed by some of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time which are: questioning, observing, associating, networking and experimenting. As entrepreneurs, these are are skills that Andy, Bill and I value and try to instill in our children and within the program.
Andy began his career as a programmer and got his first exposure to start ups in 1983. He later had the good fortune of acting as an internal entrepreneur at Microsoft for 17 years creating and leading various new businesses. He has three kids, a 20-year old and twin 17-year olds. He's been heavily involved in coaching youth sports and through this involvement he's recognized the power of mentoring where older players are often engaged in mentoring younger players. His daughters had success with the semester program CITYterm based on experiential learning. Seeing the impact of experiential learning, mentoring and exposure to the lean methodology is what drove him to form an accelerator. His enthusiasm for teaching kids makes helping launch an entrepreneur boot camp a seamless link between his professional career and personal passions.
Bill began his career as a scientist earning a UC Berkeley Ph.D while doing research for five years at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in the lab of Nobel Laureate James Watson of DNA fame. Late in those years he was inspired by Barbara McClintock who would later go on to win a solo Nobel Prize in 1982 for her work on "jumping genes." Bill's interests were changing and Barbara urged him to follow his heart into his first entrepreneurial adventure, trading markets based on programs written for the new Apple II+. This was just the beginning of a career that eventually led him to Wall Street after going back to school to earn his MBA from the Wharton School and finally to larger scale entrepreneurial efforts, most notably building and managing broadband operations in four countries of Europe that served over 20 million homes. That adventure helped him fund and run a biotech company where he won a Gates Foundation Grand Challenge Exploration Grant in 2009 for the company's work on a novel approach to a creating a malaria vaccine.
He loves to teach others what he has learned in his years as an entrepreneur. He has two boys 20 and 21 who attend Skidmore College and encourages both of them to follow their hearts and find their paths in the world based on their personal interests and passions. He is a firm believer in the importance of acquiring new knowledge but doesn't believe that everyone needs to follow the same path in lockstep. That is why he supported his youngest son in taking a semester off from college to explore an entrepreneurial endeavor.
After my college graduation, I didn't start a company right away. However I eventually made the plunge into becoming a serial entrepreneur and have founded four companies to date. The first was Parent Partners, an internet start-up focused on early learning and acquired by the Washington Post/Kaplan. Next I founded A-Ha! Learning, a 6,000 sq ft parenting center on the upper east side of New York City that provided innovative hands-on classes for parents and their kids. The third was Eebee's Adventures, a line of media, toys, and books targeted at children three and below. After placing Eebee in more than 80 million households with over 12 million episodes viewed, I decided to launch Learning Edge Labs to continue creating innovative educational technology.
Looking back, much of my entrepreneurial nature was something I began to develop at a young age. When I was 10, I turned my basement into a haunted house and made money charging kids in my neighborhood for wagon ride tours of it. My freshman year of college when I couldn't rent a refrigerator for my dorm, I decided to buy 500 of them and began a refrigerator rental business that ended up covering my entire four-year tuition and then some. I didn't realize at the time how much entrepreneurial endeavors that began so early on would shape my long-term career.
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