Twenty-two Vermont high school and tech center teachers drove, many with little entrepreneurship experience, to Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, VT Oct. 17 and 18. They left with lesson plans, information on student workshops, and practice pitching a business idea. “Our students REALLY need this information,” one participant wrote at the end of the first day. “I’m an agriculture and horticulture teacher with ZERO entrepreneurship training.”
Like successful entrepreneurs, the co-facilitators Tamie-Jo Dickinson and Laurel Butler found a need in the market and provided a service to address it. Dickinson is business teacher and FBLA advisor at Champlain Valley Union High School and Butler is a Start-up Business Advisor and Student Entrepreneur Specialist with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) as well as a STEM outreach coordinator at Vermont Technical College. Between the two of them they have decades of experience teaching, serving on advisory boards, and running businesses.
For this venture, they lead a modified version of their Governor’s Institute on Entrepreneurship workshops, only instead of teaching high school students, they taught Vermont teachers. Kelly School of Business professor Donald Kuratko defines an entrepreneur as “an innovator or developer who recognizes and seizes opportunities […] assumes the risks of the competitive marketplace to implement these ideas; and realizes the rewards from those efforts.” In more practical terms, entrepreneurship is the skills and resources for developing and starting a business. The two-day 15 hour teacher professional development training walked through focusing on which personality characteristics make a successful team, developing an idea, and pitching a business to investors and stakeholders.
But there was little take notes, look at the screen, and practice for the test learning. Instead there was networking, market analysis, hands-on activities, and refining business ideas. Within the first hour, Dickinson and Butler had the teachers networking and problem solving as they explored the differences between prediction and creation logic as they raced to complete a puzzle and to put together a quilt with scraps of fabric and tape. As an unplanned challenge, Dickinson forgot to lay out the tape. Participants scrambled from the puzzle to the tape quilts and took on roles as supervisors, technicians, and contractors as they adapted to the new activities. Later, they were put into teams to develop and pitch a business idea based on those complementary mindsets. “’Business’ like any other topic, can be made experimental and fun,” a teacher reflected. “It’s learnable, not innate!”
Those business skills are crucial in the changing economy. A study conducted by Intuit predicts around 40 percent of current high school and college students will be self-employed or contract employees throughout their careers. A 2016 study by the Economic Innovation Group interviewed 1,200 Millennials and found 72 percent considered entrepreneurship important for the economy. However, a joint study by the National SBDC and the Center for Generational Kinetics found that young people need foundational business skills and access to capital in order to start their own businesses. “This is important material, life skills,” Butler said after the event. “It’s critical. We would have less young people at risk, disengaged or wondering about their future.” She sees teaching the entrepreneurial mindset as providing the foundation for critical thinking, financial literacy, and social networking skills which will help students succeed in the changing economy and have fun along the way.
Vermont, like the country as a whole, is working to diversify its economy in the wake of the recession, globalization, and stagnant wages. Linda Rossi, the state director of the VtSBDC, said small businesses are “critical to Vermont’s economic success” adding that at events like teacher professional development training participants “leave feeling empowered.” The workshop pro
vided not only the foundation to confront business struggles, but also to tap into that sense of entrepreneurship as personal empowerment.
“We share a process where young people learn tools and attitudes to overcome adversity and address future personal, economic, community, and global challenges,” reads the introduction to the workshop workbook. “And, no matter what a person’s career pathway may be – the entrepreneurial process and mindset cross all disciplines/fields – and help individuals either be more successful in creating their own venture and or being a more focused and knowledgeable employee.” The workshop formed connections between different disciplines. The twenty-two participants taught business, engineering, diesel, forestry, and flexible pathways classes. Many also served as faculty advisors in student leadership clubs including Skills USA, DECA, FBLA, and FFA.
Dickinson and Butler kept the energy high and focused on the positive to address strategies to overcome those challenges which sink a high percentage of business startups. The teachers used spread sheets to see required financials for launching a profitable business. They discussed work/life balance issues through probing questions about the ways business works with personal lives. To top it all off, they worked with teams to hone business pitches for a margarita food truck, online platform selling tech center goods and services, and other business ideas.
But it wasn’t all business-centered. Both Dickinson and Butler showcased their other talents. Butler used Moth style storytelling to narrate death defying stories from her world travels. The next morning, Dickinson led Jazzercise to prepare the participants for another day of workshops. During breaks, the teachers walked around the picturesque Lake Morey. One group paddled kayaks while they refined their business pitch.
The business-focused activities, mixed with practical take-home resources, received positive feedback. “I’m enjoying the activities and learning with different people to explore ideas. Students will love the progression of experiences,” wrote one teacher. “I’m not sure that instructors realize the resources available to them—will pass on information!” And there was plenty to pass on.
The two-day workshop used resources adapted from the VT the Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning (REAL) curriculum as well as spreadsheets on cash flow, design thinking and the Strategyzer “business model canvas.”
At the end of the workshop, the teachers also received handouts with information on student business pitch competitions and the VtSBDC. The day after the workshop, a teacher had a student contact the VtSBDC about his business idea.
The 15 hour teacher professional development workshop on entrepreneurship was made possible by the support of the Vermont Agency of Education, Vermont Small Business Development Center and the Vermont Business Education Corporation. Contact the VtSBDC about organizing teacher or student entrepreneurship trainings or for free business advising in locations state-wide at www.vtsbdc.org.