eVenture 2010 Prepares Tomorrow’s Innovators
As we ponder the constant stream of bad economic news today, it is easy to wonder what happened to that pioneering spirit where this country used to find new and better ways when faced with onerous competition and challenges. On June 20-25, 24 high school students showed we can reclaim that innovative drive.
These students were all part of eVenture 2010, a unique hands-on entrepreneurship experience conducted by Charter Partners Institute. They were asked to work together to find something they could do better than what is out there now, and then develop that idea into a workable business or social initiative largely on their own. Staff and mentors were there to ask good questions and help them find answers, but they had to figure out what steps to take and decisions to make based on their own intuitive judgment.
What happened was amazing! Many students had a hard time initially believing they could come up with a good idea because they are accustomed to doing what they are told. But, with some stimulation, great ideas starting flying. Then came the issue: what next, as students faced the more difficult task of figuring out how to implement their ideas. They were encouraged to test their ideas in the real marketplace using simple prototypes and sharing with industry experts, partners, resources, and potential customers. All encountered challenges—some just needing to do much more work to make their idea practical, but others forced to totally reformulate or regroup. Fortunately, by now they were engaged and passionate about their own ideas, and we observed a new can-do mind set to deal with even the most difficult issues. By Friday afternoon, seven teams made convincing presentations to a panel of experienced business leaders who asked a lot of tough questions and shared some excellent advice.
The seven businesses were:
(1) My Groceries to Go: a local grocery delivery service targeted at older people who have trouble getting out and others who are just too busy to shop
(2) Find Your Coach: a website that helps students and others find a private coach who fits the skill level, background, and fee arrangement they need
(3) ArteCalle: a business that prints artwork from regional street artists on clothing to create unique garments and promote unrecognized artists
(4) The Beep: a simplified TV/entertainment remote control that beeps on command so one can find it when misplaced
(5) B2: a business that produces new fashions for teens that are sized in several dimensions so they really fit different body shapes
(6) C&J Auto: a business that rebuilds and certifies damaged cars and sells them for a large discount with a special warranty
(7) Killer BMX: a business that rebuilds and customizes old bicycles to provide affordable and personalized transportation for urban teens
One more team missed some critical development days, but shared an interesting idea to the rest of the group for a restaurant named Delicate Desires that serves modestly priced menu items presented with great taste and visual appeal, such as a fruit dish made to look like a lobster.
The creativity and resourcefulness behind these business ideas was truly remarkable, and the sophistication was well beyond what one would expect from this age group in less than a week. Several reviewers and observers on Friday asked where Charter Partners found students with such drive and motivation. But that question missed the point. These students were a fairly normal cross section representing all types of backgrounds from an elite private school (Moravian Academy) to a challenged urban district (Allentown), and a lot in between. The fact that all showed high levels of creativity, skill, and engagement demonstrates that almost everyone has the capacity for innovative leadership if that ability is just nurtured appropriately. This gives one hope that we can become a nation of innovators if we prepare all future leaders in this manner.
The secret of eVenture is the focus on the creative entrepreneurial development process. The founders noticed that students fail to demonstrate initiative and innovation not because they don’t know how to write a business plan or study a market. Rather, they have been indoctrinated by education and society that there is one right way to do anything and they should not act unless they fully understand what is expected. By putting the students in charge of their learning and engaging passion by working on their own ideas, eVenture transforms that mind set, nurtures native innovation and initiative skills, and gives participants the confidence and experience to tackle complex ambiguous tasks. Further, students learn to test their ideas in the marketplace and evaluate basic financial viability before spending too much time on detailed plans and financials since innovative ideas will almost surely need to be changed anyway. We find that students generally master the more standard financial and planning skills fairly easily after the passion and ideas are developed and tested.
The Institute thanks the 25+ business and community leaders and board members who volunteered their time to make this program a success. For more information, contact Mark Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org.