It’s my great pleasure to be invited to schools to help with events. Most recently, the Entrepreneurship Programs at two middle schools, North Naples Middle School and Immokalee Middle School, where the students have been learning the ins and outs of what it takes to identify a problem and, using their group’s creativity, design a solution that will be successful with supply and demand needs.
There are teams of four to five students, both at the middle school and high school levels, that determine what they can do to improve their lives related to school and what types of “inventions” would be the most desired by their fellow students. During a Market Day at their schools, their products are pre-ordered, actually built, designed, or produced and sold. Before the actual Market Day, there is market analysis, a “Sharks Tank” opportunity to “pitch” their ideas to the judges—that was my role with my other, fellow “sharks”—and we would individually critique, ask questions, offer suggestions and either commit to investing or give the idea a “thumbs-down.” The entrepreneurs’ ideas were spot-on to solve students’ issues!
Before the judging, there is much instruction, mentoring, attaining curriculum goals, collaborative research, planning, budgeting, prototypes built, sales pitches to create and the all-important accompanying PowerPoint presentation, with professional guidelines to follow. Since it’s a team effort, each team member has an important role to play on the team and during the presentation and questions following.
At the middle school level, students in either the academically challenging Cambridge Program or not enrolled in it, take one semester of entrepreneurship and one semester of engineering. “Currently,” according to Mr. Carlos Artime, the Director of CCPS Career and Technical Education, “there are over 200 entrepreneurship teams at our 10 middle schools.” That’s an amazingly large group of students, both young women and men, who are learning the advantages of research, design, marketing, evaluating and selling a product; skills that will be of great benefit now and in the future. The middle school level students are using curricula from Uncharted Learning and mxINCedu.
What’s really inspiring for these students are the relationships and learning they glean from mentors from the Florida Gulf Coast University Entrepreneurship Program, and their guidance throughout the entire process, including the final marketing of students’ products.
“The FGCU mentors guide our middle-school students through the process, from identifying a problem, finding a solution, creating a product concept, pitching their ideas and pivoting based on market experiences, which is a very thorough process,” Artime explained.
I can’t begin to express how enthusiastic the teachers are that teach and guide their students in this process. Lenice DeLuca, at Immokalee Middle School and Kari Doucette at North Naples Middle School are both advocates for the entrepreneur program and it shows in the products and professionalism of their students.
You might be wondering, as I was, where does the funding come from to support and sustain these programs, especially with 200 teams and with each middle school team receiving up to $50 to complete their products? In the 2020-2021 school year for example, that means that $10,000 will be needed to support 200 teams. You’ll never guess where that cash comes from. DONATIONS from our community. I always knew that we had a generous community, and this is really placing your donations directly to help student achievement. I suspect that businesses who want employees with this background knowledge and experience would jump on the chance to help train, support and hire them in the future.
Then what after middle school? Dead-end on the entrepreneurship road? Not a chance! Each of our nine public high schools has also implemented entrepreneurship. They use curricula from Uncharted Learning and INCubatoredu. “A big difference between the middle school and high school courses is that the high school students have teams of 4 to 5 students in a year-long course. Entrepreneurs and business experts from the community volunteer as coaches and mentors to guide students through the Lean Start-Up Model of developing hypotheses about a business concept, testing those hypotheses, adapting and continually learning and improving,” according to Carlos Artime. “There are multiple volunteer roles with varying degrees of time and levels of participation, which enhances the entrepreneurship program and businesses.” To add your talents to the existing cadre of resources, contact Carlos Artime at 377-0134.
There are over 100 entrepreneurship teams of four to five students each at our high schools. Teams receive up to $500 to complete their products, which again, is funded through DONATIONS from our amazing community.
What is it that makes the entrepreneurship program so engaging? It’s real life. It’s a thinking process that is adaptable. It provides skills that are transferable to many different business avenues and to life and those skills are valued and in high demand. As a potential applicant for a position, if you can’t think outside of the “box,” why would I hire you?
My regret is that these opportunities weren’t available when I was in middle and high school. There are so many diverse classes and paths to sample now that weren’t even a dim winking light on the horizon “way back when.”
I’m so appreciative of the inspiration, dedication and diversity that exist today in Collier County Public Schools, and so are our students, based on the enthusiasm they displayed during my experiences at two middle schools so far this year.
Their Market Days are coming up and that will determine their success. For some it will be back to the “drawing board,” for others it will be marketing glory. And for all, lessons well-learned and directional guidance into their future.