Preparing students for a start-up, entrepreneur-driven world


Teaching | Thursday, January 19, 2017

Preparing students for a start-up, entrepreneur-driven world

As the world changes, skills necessary for start-ups and entrepreneurs are key. See how to bring them to the classroom. (Public domain image via

As the world changes, skills necessary for start-ups and entrepreneurs are key. See how to bring them to the classroom. (Public domain image via

Jeff Hoffman created his first company as a student at Yale University. It was a software company called Competitive Technologies, and it was eventually acquired by American Express.

He went on to create a company that helps consumers book travel with airlines, hotels and rental cars at a discount. You may have heard of it. It’s called

Hoffman now considers himself a “serial entrepreneur.” He has created and sold lots of businesses and has amassed a great deal of wealth.

The world is a much different place now from when Hoffman was a student at Yale.

The Internet makes the entry point to business much more accessible. Information, software and services on the Internet are considered common in the business world.

That world continues to change, and it will certainly change a lot before today’s students start working in it. To do our best job of preparing those students for that world, it helps to understand it and be willing to adapt and change with it.

Now, there’s a new resource to challenge teachers’ mindsets and equip them to prepare students for the future.

It’s a new podcast called “StartEdUp,” created by innovation guru Don Wettrick and Hunter Stone, a former student of Don’s and Indiana University student.

Students in Don’s innovation class are already doing what StartEdUp aims to do — turn education upside down. They’re creating products, starting companies, applying for patents and preparing themselves for the world of entrepreneurship. The entire aim of his class is to let students pursue something they’re passionate about in hopes of creating or starting something big.

Don’s the author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level.

During a long car ride — and the ride home — I listened to the first five episodes back to back (to back to back to back). I came away inspired and ready to take on this fast-paced, ever-changing world.

Here are some of the key takeaways from those first episodes that can help us in the classroom:

1. Comfortable is the enemy of innovation and progress. — Jeff Hoffman

  • This fits in the business world and in education. When we get comfortable and settle into a rut, it’s hard to get out. It’s also the opposite direction we should run if we want to effect change.

2. You think kids don’t like to fail? Watch them play video games. — Don Wettrick

  • Don says, if kids played a video game for the first time and immediately beat it, they would want their money back! They want the challenge, and video games provide a safe environment for trial and failure.

3. While everybody is talking, you should be digging. — Jeff Hoffman

  • Jeff used the digging metaphor often. Talking and planning is great and important. But one key attribute of successful people is rolling up their sleeves to get to work — right away.

4. There is no “they.” It’s you. — Jeff Hoffman

  • This was a highlight of this episode for me. Jeff heard of a shelter for abused women being shut down in his community on the news. He thought, “They should save that shelter.” Then it dawned on him. There is no “they.” He knew that he had the means to help. He realized that “they” was actually him. We have to be willing to be the “they” and step up to provide a solution.

5. Opportunities are everywhere. — Don Wettrick

  • This is the mantra that Don repeats over and over in his innovation class. When your eyes are always open and looking for opportunities, you’ll find them. You just have to be on the lookout.

6. Think about what matters on a resume these days. — Nik Koyama

  • This former skater turned entrepreneur/marketer/videographer encourages us to look at education through the lens of the workforce. What skills are going to be rewarded by employers? Then, how can we help students develop those skills?

7. The only thing that sets you apart is how you leverage your skill sets. — Nik Koyama

  • Each of us has specific skills that make us unique. (And according to a growth mindset, we can always develop new skills.) Instead of fitting ourselves into a pre-determined mold, we have to think of how we can use those skills in a way that most others cannot.

8. The recipe for innovation in schools: have vision, provide a support system, and communicate what you’re doing both internally and externally. — Grant Lichtman

  • Grant wrote #EdJourney, where he chronicles his three-month solo road trip to visit schools across the United States. During his travels and interviews with hundreds of educators, he found that these three attributes must be in place for true transformation in education to happen.

9. Innovation isn’t taking place across the board in schools. Many teachers want to innovate. They just don’t know what to do. — Grant Lichtman

  • For teachers like those that Grant describes, now is the perfect time for that to change. With access to great educators online through social media, blogs and video calls, it’s easier than ever to see innovative practices and to connect with those that can help us make it a reality.

10. Having technology doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing or that you’re helping. — Howard Rheingold

  • Rheingold, a visiting lecturer at Stanford University, worked on and wrote about the earliest personal computers. He was one of the first to study digital social networks. Rheingold’s comment underscores the importance of two things in education: digital citizenship study for students and continued professional learning opportunities for educators.

11. There’s a collapse of the authority of the text. Now, we have 1 million answers and can’t trust any of them. — Howard Rheingold

  • In my crusade to “Ditch That Textbook,” this is a situation that must be addressed. We see more and more fake news popping up and have to turn to Snopes to see if things online are really real. Students must be able to judge what’s real, what’s fake and what’s some shade of gray in between.

12. Students who are curious and will talk to their faculty can get a great education anywhere. — Howard Rheingold

  • After teaching on the university level, Rheingold has found that students can truly succeed whether at a community college or an Ivy League school if they possess these two traits. We can encourage students to explore their curiosity and to take advantage of the experts at their disposal.

Those 12 points are just from the first five episodes! As Don and Hunter produce more episodes, educators will continue to be equipped with ways they can innovate and prepare students for the future they face.

Find the StartEdUp Podcast on iTunes, Google Play and wherever you catch podcasts. Check out the StartEdUp organization, which includes Don, Hunter and others, at

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  • Chris Carter says:

    I must say, our school crushes this approach. We have a Social Entrepreneurship class that actually works with Chinese farmers to grow, improve, and market coffee and tea.

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