I Want to Help High School Students Make $20,000 this Summer.
THE WHITEBOARD INCUBATOR RETHINKS HOW TO TEACH STARTUP BUSINESS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP TO STUDENTS
Recently, I was being interviewed for a company profile piece on Whiteboard Youth Ventures when the reporter asked me, “Why high school students?”
I’ll admit I was thrown for a second. Over the past five years, I’ve shared the story of how I came to find myself running education companies hundreds, possibly thousands of times. But I can’t recall ever being asked, “why high school students?”
After a momentary pause, the answer came rushing to the front of my mind.
High school students are the most undervalued, disregarded segment of our population.
There’s no doubt in my mind that high school is the most grueling four years in anyone’s academic life: balancing sports, homework, and college courses; prepping for SATs/ACTs, AP exams, and IB programs; holding down a part-time job; writing 2,000–5,000 words per week; spending Saturdays and Sundays at debate tournaments; studying Calculus, Physics, English Literature, Music Composition, and European History concurrently and at a college level; and figuring out what 15-minute window is available to cram food into your stomach.
Working from 6AM-2AM, seven days a week is the norm.
I have seen my students run themselves into the ground while smiling to accomplish incredible feats: self publishing books you can buy on Amazon.com, playing jazz solos on guitar or saxophone with exact bars from Jim Hall or Cannonball Adderley solos, starting nonprofits in Myanmar, the list goes on.
With all this accomplishment, why am I not reading more stories about high school student-run companies? Why aren’t more high school students starting their first ventures until years later?
There are two reasons. First, students aren’t being empowered to start companies. Second, when they are, they’re being taught the wrong lessons.
Teaching entrepreneurship is not like teaching math — it’s very much more an art than science, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a system. Most entrepreneurship or startup education programs heap everything on students at once: this is what value means, this is a business model, you need to grow 10% every week, you need to raise money, quick make a pitch deck, listen to some cool stories from some cool people, hurry, you need to find investors, build something fast!, ok we’re done, we’ll see you later, good luck.
If you evaluate any business/entrepreneurship/startup program for high school students in the United States, this is almost always the “process”, and it’s setting students up for burnout and failure — (the bad kind of failure, not the good kind we’re now glamorizing, but that’s a different topic).
Here’s how we should be approaching teaching business to high school students.
Step One: Knowledge Transfer- vocabulary, business models, finance and accounting, pattern recognition, business experimentation design, legal
Step Two: Skills Transfer- presentation skills and public speaking, audience building, technology development, prototyping, budgeting and financial projecting
Step Three: Execution and Practice- wire-framing, web development, sales, split testing, sales, opening bank accounts, filing government paperwork, sales, content creation, market validation, 3D printing, did I mention sales?
I’ve spent three years designing, testing, and refining a startup curriculum specifically designed for high school students. Any student, from any country can register for the Global Startup Challenge, our one-week intensive boot camp. While our flagship program will continue to be held in Boston each July, we plan to host sessions in three to five other cities around the world in 2017, and in 2018, we hope to be running at least 30 sessions.
But education is not about a one-time, limited encounter. If you want a pretty certificate from a top university or line-item on your résumé, there are other programs who will gladly take thousands of dollars from you.
In all my education ventures, my philosophy centers around providing students with an intensive experience and continued support to achieve maximum results. If you study with my team and I, you’re part of our community and we will do anything in our power to see you succeed.
In 2013, I helped one student start his first venture. It was the first time we did anything like this, and although the experience was filled with immense growing pains and hard life lessons for me personally, I know that held up my end. We helped him sell over $45,000 of product in four months.
Test and refine. I’ll never ask a student to do something that I’m not doing myself.
A second student came to me with an idea to start a niche pants company, of all things. We sourced a manufacturer in Guangzhou, developed an ecommerce website, and Kickback Pants launched just two weeks ago.
Now Whiteboard is formalizing the process, launching a full no-equity, no-tuition incubator for high school students. I’m looking for 3–5 students or business teams. They’ll go through our workshops, prototype, and launch in just over a month. Our goal: $20,000 in profit for each venture by Christmas.
Here are my promises:
- This isn’t about a pointless pitch deck. We’re not teaching how to raise money or sell to investors. I’m looking for grinders, hustlers, builders, and makers.
- This isn’t about padding your college application. If you think starting a real business — not a bullshit, fake company so you can list something on your newly opened LinkedIn profile — will help you get into college, then great.
- It’s all about continued support and engagement. From the moment you’re accepted, we’ll start working with you to build a pre-launch audience. After our time together in Cambridge, we’ll be checking in every week or so to make sure you’re on pace to meet your goals.
- This isn’t going to be easy. You will find out what you’re capable of. You won’t be staying up until 4AM watching episodes of Silicon Valley, you’ll be up until 4AM building prototypes and making fun of people who watch Silicon Valley.
- You’ll get training, support, access, and licences to a bunch of cool tools you may or may not be familiar with, like the Hubspot CRM, Moz SEO software, SEMrush, UXPin, Constant Contact software, SpyFu, Facebook Ad manager, AppsZero, and more.
- You’re not going to leave the incubator talking about “the dynamic and disruptive power” of your idea or saying things like, “If only we had a programmer or coder then...” You’re going to build your product and you’re going to sell it, enough with the bullshit excuses.
No More Excuses
Put up or shut up. If you have what it takes to start a company and start making some real money from real sales, this is your opportunity. I know what high school students are capable of, so no one will be treating you like you’re 12 here. There’s no multi-thousand dollar tuition. We don’t take even a small piece of equity or ownership.
We only succeed if our students succeed. Apply now.
Frank E. Pobutkiewicz, firstname.lastname@example.org
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