September 23rd, 2019

Business Beat: Entrepreneurship lessons from a high school classroom

By Christie Wilson on August 21, 2019.

edc@mhc.ab.ca

Large sheets of white paper labeled “Business Model Canvas” flew about in parking lots and bounced around in the back seat of my SUV as I made my way into rural high school classrooms over the past year. Thinking back to last fall when I began weekly visits to Grade 10-12 students in Bow Island, Foremost, Dunmore and Oyen I had no idea of how powerful my experience and that of students would be. And, now I know.

Looking back, I saw that the work we do with entrepreneurs on campus would be helpful in high schools and by the end of the term of weekly visits, this experience and the students I worked with uncovered some amazing truths and interesting surprises.

Young people are inspiring and capable of more than they, and we think. Each week I found students grow in confidence, work collaboratively and learn new critical thinking skills without really noticing until they’d reached the end of term. The hands-on nature of the learning allowed students to experiment and question ideas without constraints to their thinking. This was new learning and finding a non-linear answer often left room for a bit of chaos and patience to figure out the real problems to solve. These kinds of experiences can’t help but build personal growth.

It did though, surprise me a little to learn that students didn’t always enjoy the fluid, flexible path to finding answers and learning through experimentation. In the beginning a view to building new ventures and learning how to be an entrepreneur wasn’t always enough to make students feel confident in the path they were taking. Students taught me that at any age we all need a little support and mentorship as we forge new paths.

Too, they reminded me that while solving business problems isn’t always fun, the act of trying has a lasting effect on how we see a business venture succeed or fail, and the skills learned are easily applied to future life, career and business challenges. When students embraced looking deeper at solutions rather than products and thought critically – entire venture ideas improved and were validated.

There is chaos in the process we used to build ventures in class, but with a little time and patience – students found their way. Sometimes it took giving permission to do what they thought best and empowering a belief in the unknown while taking the time and effort needed to look deeper. Other times, it meant starting over and learning that it was OK to do that. Some ideas just don’t work.

Each day spent in class highlighted how important it is to help young people think and act entrepreneurial, inside and outside classrooms, in companies and personal lives. This focus on thinking creatively about problems, responding to opportunity with confidence and strategy and embracing the idea of failure leading to success can’t help but make the world a better place.

And, ironically, the most exciting thing I learned, I already knew.

Young people are smart, humble, ready to work, think big and small, and have open minds and futures full of hope. There’s a reason we all love the promise and hope of youth – because it’s full of optimism, experimentation and possibilities. Match entrepreneurship with youth and you get a bright future for all.

The MHC Entrepreneur Development Centre helps students and alumni bring their entrepreneurship dreams to life. We offer 1-1 coaching, training, mentorship and access to a diverse network of startup funding.

Christie Wilson is an entrepreneur outreach coordinator at Medicine Hat College and the APEX Entrepreneurship Incubator.

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