Vermont's small businesses are key to the state's well-being. They account for a significant share of the state's economic production and hiring. Small businesses accounted for 61.4% of private-sector jobs in the state and small firms made up 96.5% of the state's employers. (Source: SBA Office of Advocacy, Feb. 2011) Student entrepreneurship is an effective strategy for preparing young people to be successful in that sector of our economy. For many of our students, employment opportunities are with sole proprietorships or with companies with few employees. This situation presents both challenges and opportunities for schools that want to provide work-based learning experiences for their students. The reality is that rural communities may have few well established work-based learning opportunities. Many of our employers can offer only one work-based learning slot at a time.
Definition of Student Entrepreneurship
Student entrepreneurship is a program or activity that takes students through the process of learning what it takes to become a successful small business owner or manager. From a school-to-work standpoint, it represents preparing someone to understand all aspects of running a business and learning about 'being their own boss.' Student entrepreneurship may take the form of school-based businesses that students help to set up and run, curricula that guides students through the process of creating business plans, working with local entrepreneurs and other community resources to plan and run enterprises, or any combination of these activities. Entrepreneurship offers students an interdisciplinary experience in understanding small business. Entrepreneurship may be undertaken on or off the school site, but must be part of the school's course work in order to be considered for academic credit. Students can participate in an entrepreneurship activity at all ages—from kindergarten through college.
The wealth of entrepreneurial talent in Vermont communities is an excellent resource to tap for assistance and hands-on experiences for student entrepreneurship. In rural communities with few large employers, entrepreneurship may offer the best learning opportunities which connect to the world of work. Students experience, reflect, analyze, and apply what they have learned.
Benefits to Students
Student entrepreneurship will enable students to make connections across academic disciplines in a real life, experiential context. Students have the opportunity to participate in designing their own learning and are motivated to think, plan, and act as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship encourages students to work in teams and to engage in each aspect of running a business: product design and selection, production, quality control, marketing, sales, and financial bookkeeping. These are skills that ordinarily, students may not have the opportunity to learn in school. In addition, students feel pride as they have the opportunity to earn money in an entrepreneurship for their schools and for community projects.
Benefits to Schools
Student entrepreneurship gives schools the chance to expose students to situations outside the usual school curriculum and teach students a variety of business techniques and new and emerging technologies. In rural communities with only a few employers, student entrepreneurship may offer the best learning opportunities which connect students to the world of work.
Setting Up a Student Entrepreneurship Experience
Before beginning, the informatoin in Planning & Implementation and the Legal Issues sections. Much of the information in these sections is directly related to how students interact with the world of work and is applicable to establishing student entrepreneurships. There are also excellent training opportunities for teacher training through the Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning (REAL) Enterprises (high school and post secondary), Mini-REAL Institutes (elementary), and Middle REAL (middle level).
VT REAL Enterprises
Approach your principal and then your local school board with a well thought out proposal. It might be helpful if two or three local business leaders accompany you to help present the concept and demonstrate a willingness to provide ongoing support. Find a lead facilitator and establish a committee to provide advice and support. This committee need not be large. Try to include several successful local entrepreneurs. These individuals will be helpful in soliciting support and advice from the rest of the business community.
Identify Student Interests
Teachers work with the students to discover what kind of business venture would interest them and would provide the opportunity to meet their learning objectives. Develop ideas that reflect student needs, desires, and concerns and include a discussion about the needs of the community. It's important that students feel ownership of the project.
Creating and running a student entrepreneurship is very different than using traditional teaching methods. Since students have choices in the design and implementation of the project, then teachers become facilitators and coaches in the experience. If possible, have teachers who will be involved participate in training, like REAL, or visit with/observe a teacher who is already implementing a student project. Many vocational-technical teachers have had experience in an entrepreneurial project with students.
Develop Business Contacts
Request the support and assistance of economic and business development professionals. Small business development centers (SBDCs), local chambers of commerce, Rotary organizations, regional economic development corporations, and the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) may have offices in your area and would be good places to start. Local business owners and entrepreneurs are often willing to help. Such people have a wealth of expertise and are usually interested in assisting young entrepreneurs.
Develop the Curriculum
Establish the learning standards the students will meet and determine how they will be assessed. Determine which academic standards students will have the opportunity to achieve, and then develop the instructional units. Look at entrepreneurial curricula others have used. Ensure that students have the basic skills they need to succeed before they begin the experience.
Reflection and Evaluation
Student entrepreneurship offers valuable opportunities for performance-based assessments. Often community members are invited to help assess students' progress through observations and presentations. Students need time to reflect on their work and what they have learned through the use of journals and discussions. Teachers should reflect on how successful the learning experience was for the students and determine how to improve on it.
Connecting Student Entrepreneurship to the Classroom
It is important to make student entrepreneurship experiences meaningful by connecting them to classroom learning and to Vermont's Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities. Connecting activities can take many forms and should take place at all stages of the student entrepreneurship.
• The lead facilitator/teacher and core advisors determine learning standards to be met and how they will be assessed.
• Teachers and students brainstorm the types of activities to be considered which reflect student's needs, desires, and concerns.
• Student input at this point is very critical and can help in developing their enthusiasm for the project.
• Teachers create opportunities for students to learn certain basic skills necessary to run the project successfully.
• Teachers and students brainstorm community resources available to them for support and information. These include the business community, organizations, books, as well as on-line services and publications.
• Students begin the setup of their project. Students perform as many of the tasks as possible. The teacher serves in an advisory or coach role (when practical), but should be ready to demonstrate leadership if unusual difficulties are encountered. Teachers facilitate discussions on business organization, business planning, and bookkeeping.
• As students confront problems, they gain valuable experience in critical thinking, communication, decision-making, and personal growth. The teacher may find excellent opportunities to include human resources management into these discussions.
• Students gain real experience in utilizing technology, operating effectively within organizations, and understanding the business world. The teacher and outside business leaders endeavor to broaden the exposure to new technology and its potential business applications.
• As business formation and operations proceed, students connect classroom learning with real activities in the business world. The teacher and visiting business leaders use additional anecdotal evidence and personal testimonials to make the experience real.
• Students are encouraged to fill several different positions within the business if they decide to start one up. In doing so, they experience diverse roles of workers in the workplace and better assess their own career possibilities. For example, they may find they enjoy production or marketing, but don't want to pursue bookkeeping or management.
• Periodically, the teacher facilitates a team meeting where students check progress against the business plan and their personal expectations. At these meetings, students discuss improvements to their business structure, their product, and its delivery. Good ideas might be implemented right away or reserved for discussion purposes.
• Teachers and students jointly assess the success of the entrepreneurship. Students present their findings and personal growth both orally and in writing.
• Teachers assess whether student learning objectives have been met. Student/teacher dialogues may be helpful to both teachers and students in the assessment process.
• Students write thank you letters to community members who have assisted them.