Educational Entrepreneurs: Fresh Ideas for Educational Settings
Have you ever had a great idea for a new product or a new concept and thought, “Gee, I think people would buy that”? Perhaps you are a teacher or a leader in a youth serving organization who has developed a learning program that was well-received by your students, or maybe you have an idea for a new mobile app to help children learn about math. The new Edpreneur in Residency program in the COE’s ED Collabitat is designed for education innovators who want to take their ideas to the next level.
“We’re here to help aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in maximizing their talent for innovations in education,” said Kathleen Fink, assistant dean for professional learning and innovation. “Our clients come to us with all kinds of good ideas – they might have an innovative new program, a new STEM learning approach, a new school organization scheme, an idea for a mobile app – anything that has the potential to bring about educational creativity and change.”
The Edpreneur in Residency program is based on business incubator models, and is a joint venture between the College of Education and MasterCard. Aspiring innovators receive expert assistance in creating new start-ups through six-month residencies. Participants tap into university resources to hone their designs and consult with specialists from MasterCard and other sectors, preparing them to take products and services to market.
The program is offered through the college’s ED Collabitat. ED Collabitat represents a radical leap forward to address major educational challenges. Its programs and activities are focused on 1) Your Practice, 2) Your Career, 3) Your Creativity and 4) Your Organization, and all aim to ignite professional creativity and change practices, cultures, and systems.
“We think one of the most important goals of the college – whether it is our educator preparation, post-graduate or continuing professional development — is to bring about professional creativity that can be sustained throughout educators’ careers,” Fink said. “Our Edpreneur program is germinating new inventions in education that we believe will change and improve the way education works.”
Opened last year, the ED Collabitat has transformed the mid-century modern Ward E. Barnes Library from a place to seek and consume existing knowledge from books and journals, to a repurposed space for inventing new ideas and new ways of thinking about education. The three strands of our programming approach in ED Collabitat – Explore; Design and Build; and Creativity – all support groundbreaking processes that are key to innovation and creativity.
The Edpreneur program comes directly under the “Creativity” strand where ideas from diverse disciplines and sectors come together and innovative solutions emerge. Since Edpreneur in Residency began last fall, two cohorts — a total of 28 participants — have completed the program. About half of those are practicing educators from schools, non-profit youth serving organizations, and museums. The other participants are nascent business entrepreneurs.
“We know that every education professional has particular expertise in some aspects of their practice, something that they do exceptionally well,” Fink explained. “The Edpreneur in Residency incubates that professional creativity. Education professionals from the college ensure that their ideas are grounded in research-based educational practices. And the faculty advisors are joined by experts from professions, businesses and the non-profit world who help them structure their ideas into marketable services or products.”
Participants meet regularly for a variety of workshops, presentations, group meetings and networking opportunities – scheduled weekly for late afternoon, evenings or weekends. They learn how to pitch their ideas and develop a small business plan. The topics covered include project management, financial modeling, business development, legal concerns, website development and security and funding avenues. Professionals from businesses, legal and financial services and non-profit organizations serve as presenters and work with the group. The cohort also takes a field trip to MasterCard Operations Center in O’Fallon, Mo.
“MasterCard is deeply involved with support for this,” said Fink. “Their employees serve as mentors to our individual cohort members. They’ve helped with things like determining whether a project should be offered as wholesale or retail and whether the target market is a school or an individual. They help participants write business plans and explore ways customers can pay. MasterCard also has also helped with some of the participants’ startup costs.”
Participants’ innovations range widely in their scope and focus. Some emphasize STEM learning like one education company developing STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) curricula for pre-school children. Another Edpreneur is developing a mobile app that animates special flash cards for children to learn the alphabet.
Individual projects from the 2015-16 program were on exhibit publicly in the Edpreneur Showcase to the Community, held last week in the ED Collabitat. Participants and their mentors demonstrated their innovations to nearly 300 educators, business leaders, bankers and social service providers in attendance. Featured speaker at the event was Felecia Hatcher, a White House Award winning entrepreneur and bestselling author.
We invite educational entrepreneurs to develop an idea or product that has the promise of bringing a fresh, new, innovative experience to educational settings. If you would like to explore the possibilities for taking your idea to the next level, please contact Phyllis Balcerzak at firstname.lastname@example.org about the Edpreneur in Residency program. The application deadline for the new fall cohort is in August.
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