How do we best prepare the world’s next generation of citizens, leaders, and entrepreneurs? Three words: change formal education. To realize their full potential, students need to get out of the classroom and learn from real world experiences, and schools need to foster this type of student exploration. 

I enlisted the help of 11 entrepreneurs to talk about their experiences within the education system, and describe how they think schools can be transformed (read their bios in the article appendix) . I discussed a small portion of these interviews in the previous article "Pt. 1 Entrepreneurs Speak on Education," and more detail on the interviews can be found in the full dissertation available here

Of course we need more people business people like Bill Gates, but ever more we need more leaders like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This article expands the entrepreneur's feedback to thoughts on reinventing schools, classrooms, and pedagogy, answering the question: what kind of systems exist that are addressing this problem, and how can we take the best examples of entrepreneurship in education and expand them nation and world-wide"?

Guiding this work is the theories of Paulo Freire, arguably the greatest educational philosopher of the 20th century. 

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  

A School System in Crisis

How many schools in the US are implementing the type of creative pedagogy that helped Peter and other students develop as an entrepreneurs, active citizens, and leaders.? (See Peter's story in Pt. 1 Entrepreneurs Speak on Education). Answer: Almost none. 

Montessori education is probably the best-known program that plays a part in helping foster leadership and entrepreneurship. First written about in the early 1900’s. Montessori schools feature multi-age classrooms, self-directed study, student-chosen work, no grades or tests, and some instruction in academic and social skills (Montessori, 1964). This description fits with Peter Rachor’s story of an experimental multi-age classroom. It's also extremely effective. Montessori has been shown in other research to have a significant effect on student learning and social development (A. S. Lillard, 2005). 

Montessori education, an effective method for integrating entrepreneurship into education, only reaches 0.3% of students in the US.

The program has spread to more than 5000 schools in the United States, including 300 public schools and some high schools (A. Lillard & Else-Quest, 2006). While that data might seem impressive, it is only a small percentage of all schools in the US. With about 86,500 public schools in the United States, Montessori has reached about 0.3% of potential students. The program also often stops after primary school when students are entering adolescence, a time when they could benefit from a more flexible and engaging model.

Get Out of the Classroom

Though innovative, the Montessori system normally operates exclusively in a classroom environment. Could we improve its effectiveness by incorporating non-classroom elements?

An organization for adult entrepreneurs, Lean Start-up Machine, thinks they can. The company teaches an entrepreneurial method called ‘Lean-Start Up’ in 3-day intensive sessions using a variation of the Montessori principles. The workshops have been held in 40 cities around the world, involving more than 7800 entrepreneurs. 

In each workshop, teams of entrepreneurs are formed around ideas presented in the opening hour of the event. The teams then listen to short presentations on the ‘Lean-Start Up’ technique interspersed by time to apply the ideas to their venture. On the second and main day of the event, entrepreneurs must ‘get out of the building’ and interview potential customers around the city to evaluate the merits of their product or idea. Participants spend about 30-40% of their time outside of the building, about 50% of their time working in their group, and about 5-10% of the time listening to presentations on the concepts and ideas.

What if Students spent 30-40% of their class time, two full days, learning outside of the classroom?

Imagine applying this learning method to high school students. 5-10% of time could be spent getting direct instruction from teachers, 50% of time could be supported individual or group work, and 30-40% of their week, or a full two days, could be spent outside of the classroom. That is two days outside of the classroom every week for the entirety of high school. Students could work as interns, apprentice to craftsmen, conduct their own research projects, play music, explore their own interests, or even volunteer. Two days. Every week. During school hours. Now that would be a radical change.

Applied Learning - Garrett's Story

What would happen if we encouraged students to pursue that level of experiential learning? Garrett Athman, an engineer and entrepreneur, tells a story of an experience he had being let out of class in the 7th grade to help repair the school’s sound and lighting equipment. He'd been selected by school administrators because of a family reputation for working with the equipment. 

“They let me out of class in the 7th grade and said go in there, do what you can, and let us know if we have to buy anything.”

“They weren’t training me I was teaching myself, troubleshooting, learning about the parts, going online finding manuals, contacting the manufacturers and trying to act professional when I’m a 7th grader, saying ‘Hey this is so and so with the Hamilton School District, working on fixing...”

Today the average 7th grader can probably school you in math, fix your iPad, and even show you how to use your smart phone.

Not enough 7th graders are given this kind of a chance to prove themselves responsible and explore their interests. How better to interest a student in art, music, or technology than let him or her work on a real world project? How better to train leaders that let them have opportunities to practice leadership? How better to encourage entrepreneurs than by offering them the mindset and real world opportunities to apply what they have learned?

Entrepreneurial Schools - Successful Models

A few exemplary schools recognize the need to offer such opportunities to students, and have realized significant results using the 30-40% of time experiential learning model. 

Students at the school have produce one patent, 11 provisional patents, and six companies... in four years.

The Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) in Kansas provides around 900 students the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial education in Bioscience, Business, Engineering, and Human Services. 16-18 year old students work with real businesses to gain experience in their field of interest, spending 2.5 hours a day at the center or with businesses in addition to other classes. The program has produced one full patent, 11 provisional patents, and six companies in its four year history.

With such promising results, it's hard not think about expanding the school even further. Why not add arts as one of the subjects for exploration? Along with the patents and businesses you could have young recording artists, poets, painters, and actors. Why not expand beyond only 16-18 year olds, or offer a program for students to explore their passions for more than 2.5 hours per day? There is so much untapped potential for dynamic change in our pre-university students, something the Blue Valley CAPS is just beginning to tap into. 

Sujata Bhatt has taken entrepreneurial education a step further as the founder and head teacher of The Incubator School in Los Angeles. Opened in August 2013, The Incubator School’s mission is to “foster, network, and launch the entrepreneurial teams of tomorrow.” Starting with 6th and 7th grade students, the school plans to expand to a full middle and high school over time and will encourage students to team up and start real world companies(Molnar, 2013). The Incubator School is the type of education that could reach disengaged students by incorporating the entrepreneurial mindset into the classroom. This type of education would provide students opportunities to apply their ideas and skills in the real world.

To be clear, not every school should put such a focus on teaching entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial education that directly encourages students to start ventures, such as The Incubator School, is from different from education that encourages children to find their passions and explore an entrepreneurial mindset: creative, inquisitive, opportunistic, innovative. Every student can benefit from exposure to an entrepreneurial mindset, but not every student would thrive in a school focused specifically on starting ventures. 

A Call to Action

The reason for the entrepreneurial gap – 45% of 5th-12th graders want to start their own business but only 6.5% do – is because of a gap between intention and experience. This figure only captures the disservice the education system is doing to entrepreneurs, and doesn't touch open the harm to artists, musicians, dancers, writers, or any other student not given the chance to explore their passions. If a student has never pursued their own interests, never learned to discover, they will not develop the entrepreneurial mindset and be the creative, inquisitive, opportunistic, and innovative citizens, leaders and entrepreneurs that society needs. 

Parents, Students, Teachers, and Policy makers in the US and UK should rise up in protest of the movement to create common curriculum and common standards. Single age, single instruction, and single metric classrooms should become a thing of the past. Multi-age classrooms that incorporate technology into the Montessori model and feature 30-40% experiential learning, like the Blue Valley CAPS, should be expanded and scaled.

Together we can lobby policy makers to reverse course and end the current system of standardization. In its place, we can push them to rebuild an education system that encourages students to explore their own passions in a practical and supported manner. It's through this course of action that we can prepare the world’s next generation of citizens, leaders, and entrepreneurs.


Kurt Berning

Hug the Rhino
For a better life

Resources for Action against the Common Core:

Example of action on the state level: Utahns against the commons core:

Twitter or Facebook: #stopcommoncore
Google Search: Campaigns Against the Common Core

Once Again The full dissertation with citations can be seen here.

If anyone has other examples of innovation schools, education programs, or learning models, please leave a comment or send me an email. 


Written By Kurt Berning

Appendix: Bios of Entrepreneurs

The Interviewees

The four women and seven men represented a diverse group of experienced entrepreneurs from the US and UK, with eight having started 2-4 businesses and an age range from early 20's to late 50's. Hailing from a diverse background of for-profit, non-profit, and social enterprise companies, this sample size of entrepreneurs provides a richness of experience and data.

Richard Patey is an entrepreneur, internet marketer and author of Coffee Shop Entrepreneurs - Wake Up And Smell The Location Independent Economy - who makes money for clients and his own ventures in the ski and snowboard industry.

Rachel McGillis the founder of Sunray7, a company that builds confidence and resilience in leaders. Sunray7 has worked with high-profile companies such as Unilever, Barclays, and BT build clarity, momentum and confidence among its clients. 

Elle Hoxworth recently finished a two-year position with Teach for America, and just accepted a position in Chicago as a 3rd grade teacher. Elle founded a fair trade co-op called Shangilia Mama in 2010 to sell goods hand-made by women in Kenya to markets the Northwest of the US. 

Justin Koufopoulos is a US/UK Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar at the University of Leeds. Currently finishing a MSc by Research in Psychology, Justin has consulted for Start-Up Chile in Santiago, is a NY ’12 StartingBloc Fellow, and is working on ventures in mHealth, or using mobile devices to support public and personal health. 

Garrett Athman is a 4th year student at the University of Portland studying Civil Engineering. He’s the director of Pilot Audio and Lighting at the University of Portland, and recently started a Photo Booth Rental venture in Montana. 

Bethany Foran works full time as a civil engineer in Portland, Oregon. Graduating with degrees in Civil Engineering, Theatre, and Philosophy, she has founded a drafting company, an engineering firm, and a renewable energy venture. She also helps manage the operations of Transita, a transportation firm based in Portland. 

Robert Ashton, based in Norwich, UK, has written over 15 books on entrepreneurship, including “How to Be a Social Entrepreneur” and “How to Start Your Own Business for Entrepreneurs”. Robert has campaigned for many social initiates, including the establishment of the Norfolk Community Foundation, which now gives grants of more than £1 million annually. 

Peter Rachor is the Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Portland. Peter has been involved in communications and technology since the 6th grade, and started numerous telecommunications businesses. Peter now serves as a mentor for aspiring entrepreneurs and directs the award-winning Entrepreneur Scholar Program. 

Junaid Kalmadi lives in Chicago where he writes about entrepreneurship and learning. Junaid recently launched a beta app called “Charlie” which updates users with important information on their contacts before any meeting. Junaid has also launched a series of entrepreneur networking and presentation events.

Kathya Acuña is the Operations Administrator at Sparkloft Media. She has done community development work in Kenya with the Foundation for Sustainable Development, and recently founded a non-profit organization with plans to do work in Colombia.

John Koenig is the founder of Measureful, a company that automates the process of data collect and analysis to give customers meaningful information. Originally from Kansas, John has also founded, a charity works with underserved communities through kids surfing programs and charitable donations of recycled wetsuits and surfboards.