Higher Ed + Local Business: Preparing Students for the Entrepreneurial Economy in Kansas City
How might we better prepare Kansas City students to enter the entrepreneurial economy and compete at a global level?
Hi, I’m Trevor Nicks, a third-year student at William Jewell College, studying biochemistry and business administration. This past year, I collaborated with seven other students from Rockhurst University, UMKC, and Jewell to host the second annual #OneDayKC workshop. #OneDayKC exposes college and high school students to entrepreneurial problem-solving methods, encouraging them to seek out solutions to civic challenges while learning about design thinking and the lean startup model from Kansas City-area entrepreneurs, professionals, educators, and University Innovation Fellows.
Last spring, as a sophomore, I participated in the first-ever #OneDayKC and it fundamentally changed the way I view myself as a student, scientist, and American citizen. It opened me up to a part of the world that I had never experienced: growing up in a rural town of 2,500 people in East-Central Missouri, my only definition of “entrepreneurship” was my aunt and uncle’s frozen yogurt and custard shop, and through #OneDayKC I learned new ways to audaciously solve problems with an entrepreneurial mindset. The mentorship and inspiration I gained from people like Adam Hawley of
Waddell & Reed, Darrin Clawson of Engage Mobile, and Ashley Hand, then KC’s Chief Innovation Officer, changed the course of my academic career and caused me to ask the question, “Could I become an entrepreneur, and what would that look like?”
I had never asked this question before.
I was learning a lot in the classrooms at Jewell, from the amazing individuals that are my professors and peers, but I had yet to tie it all together and find my mission. I’m confident I would’ve eventually reached the conclusion that I have now, but #OneDayKC was the catalyst, and in 12 hours it caused me to realize that what I am most passionate about is commercializing technologies from the lab in order to improve the quality of life for humans everywhere (along with bettering STEM education, but that’s a slightly different conversation). Both of these were pursuits I had previously pondered, but #OneDayKC crystallized them in the forefront of my mind.
Not only did #OneDayKC help me identify what I am passionate about, it equipped me with the tools, confidence, and even a network with which I could pursue that passion and develop my skills as a potential entrepreneur.
I could be an entrepreneur. In fact, I wanted to be one.
#OneDayKC was a transformative experience for me, so I asked, “How could we increase the number of people who can learn from a workshop like this so that more students might be able to enhance their education and develop their life mission?” After all, #OneDayKC only happens once a year. I considered the aspects of #OneDayKC that were vital to me having had this realization. What qualities of that day — the conversations and ideas — propelled me to that conclusion about my mission and how could we recreate or emulate these qualities while encouraging students to consider entrepreneurship as a career?
The important qualities of the day (for me) were…
- Hearing about Kansas City’s successes. The innovative way our city officials have been approaching public-private partnerships is inspiring. Knowing that city government was actively assisting venture development for Smart City technologies, like what we were doing with #OneDayKC, gave me a sense of purpose and feeling of support.
2. Meeting and greeting with professionals. As I mentioned, the conversations I had with Adam, Darrin, and Ashley were truly inspiring. They encouraged me to get an internship and gave me the confidence to go to Boston last summer in pursuit of one with an MIT startup. I went, and it was a fantastic experience.
3. Meeting students from other schools with varying backgrounds. Jewell is a fantastic place, and I cherish its small community. However, #OneDayKC gave me the opportunity to meet individuals from other institutions in KC who are doing great things, like Michael Brummett of Rockhurst University. Seeing the successes of students from other universities gave me a sense of healthy competition when returning to campus.
4. The forgiving yet fast-paced, high-pressure, and human-centered creative process. The idea of starting a business is daunting. It is so much more than just having a good idea, e.g. customer acquisition, and because of that, it becomes easy to just kill an idea before it has been thoughtfully pursued due to the fear of the unknown. #OneDayKC asks students to let go of some of those inhibitions and just run with an idea — creating a substantial business idea and talking with potential customers on the streets of KC while acknowledging that it’s not going to be perfect. This lets students run through the process of business formation with tools such as Design Thinking and the Lean-canvas model without the fear of lowering their GPA.
5. The people. Kansas City entrepreneurs and educators are fun to be around and supportive. Ben Williams at UMKC, Risa Stein at Rockhurst, Andrea Essner of C.E.E.D., and Yosef Shuman of Volcanic are just a few of the amazing individuals that actively impart information and excellent advice to the young people around them. I learn something every time I have a conversation with them, and I feel people like them are essential to inspiring the next wave of entrepreneurs.
6. The organizers. Sarah Jones, Bradley Dice, and Zach Pettet were the co-directors of the first ever #OneDayKC. The founders, representing Rockhurst, Jewell, and UMKC respectively, held an energy and intensity that seemed unparalleled by the smattering of college students that I had met so far. Witnessing their energy and drive inspired me to be the best me that I could be.
But I’m just one person, and so with the help of the other University Innovation Fellows at Jewell, I put together a discussion panel of KC entrepreneurs and educators. We held the discussion in front of an audience of entrepreneurially-minded students from around the country who had come to Kansas City for #OneDayKC and a University Innovation Fellows regional meetup at William Jewell College.
The panel was composed of:
1. Dr. Risa Stein, professor of psychology at Rockhurst University.
2. Zach Pettet, 2015 graduate of UMKC, Co-founder of #OneDayKC, and employee at blooom.
3. Landon Young, Director of Creativity and Innovation at William Jewell College and Co-founder of donateequity.com.
4. Ben Williams J.D., Assistant Director of the Regnier Institue at UMKC.
5. Andrea Essner of C.E.E.D.
6. Conner Hazelrigg, 2015 graduate of William Jewell College, University Innovation Fellow, and founder of 17°73°.
I asked them, “How might we better prepare Kansas City students to enter the entrepreneurial economy and compete at a global level?” The panel, the visiting students, and the University Innovation Fellows program directors and staff from Stanford University had an insightful hour-long conversation. Bam! I had my answers.
How might we better prepare Kansas City students to enter the entrepreneurial economy and compete at a global level?
1. Put a creative assignment on every syllabus. Ask a math major to paint, a political science student to use a 3D printer, and a theatre student to use electromagnets to create a dynamic set. Establishing creative confidence in students of every field will lead to a more entrepreneurially minded society.
2. Encourage students to get off campus. In example, plan a field trip to 1 Million Cups, and not just for business students. Take the artists, the scientists, the musicians. Once there, make it an assignment to meet three people from the KC business community. The connections students make will hopefully exist past LinkedIn and develop into mentor/mentee relationships or even employment.
3. In one class period, have your students experience the Lean startup process. Professor Landon Young has been experimenting with this concept on Jewell’s campus. Students pick a problem, iterate solutions, get feedback, and pitch their idea, all within an hour.
4. Teach students how to learn. Are your students’ courses full of rote memorization and viewed as a check list of “must do x” to get a degree, or are they learning how to learn in a way that is applicable to the real world. In the words of Zach Pettet, “The question for startups is not ‘what do students know?’, it is ‘What and how are students thinking?’ We can teach them the rest on the job.”
5. “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Like me, as Jon Stephens recently pointed out in his Cowtown article, many of Kansas City’s residents and students are from rural areas. It’s important to understand that a lot of students come to Kansas City not actually knowing what they really want to do with their lives. With that in mind, we must expose our students to as many diverse experiences as possible to foster creativity and innovation.
1. Keep it local! Do you need an intern? Send an email to the career services of local universities. After experiencing #OneDayKC twice, I’m confident you can find a KC student who is right for your business. We’re pretty cool.
1. Don’t just skate by. Work your butts off, join clubs, start clubs, start businesses, meet people. As hilarious as episode 6 of season 4 of Parks and Rec is, it’s not worth skipping class, and it’s definitely not worth missing the opportunity to develop your life mission.
2. Get out there. Pursue internships as if though they are the oxygen you need to breathe. Want an internship? Email every company you are interested in. Chances are, one will give you an interview, even if it’s over the phone. The career services department at your school will likely review your resume, set up a mock interview with you, there may even be money available to make sure you look sharp when you walk in the door.
3. Share your ideas with your peers. This summer, I’ll be working with a biotech startup in Cork, Ireland; the connection that made this possible formed from a conversation I had with a stranger at a conference about my research interests. Don’t sell yourself short either, people want to hear about others’ successes.
1. Collaborate. Extremely apparent from the discussion panel’s conversation was the need to connect; our universities, our students, our businesses, and our city will all be better off as we actively seek to connect. Everything discussed herein addresses Kansas City as it is. But, what will Kansas City be? Will we be our country’s most entrepreneurial city? One of the best aspects of #OneDayKC is its collaborative spirit. Students, faculty, and businesses from all over Kansas City come together to do something great. That same collaborative spirit will lead to even greater events and achievements if our community embraces it.
2. Celebrate! Continue to celebrate our city’s successes. Whether it’s Cerner’s expansion, the Royals’ World Series Win, Techweek coming to KC, or Restoration Emporium’s placement in the top 10 of Microsoft’s small business competition, it’s worth talking about. Celebrating our city and its wins — both big and small — inspires confidence in our students and affirms that they are in a city of champions. They too, can do anything they put their minds to
World change is not a spectator sport; it takes active participation from a diverse group of individuals. #OneDayKC is here to educate and empower the students that are becoming those change makers and we would like to invite all of Kansas City to consider how we can best prepare our young people for the ever-changing landscape of the modern world. How might we better prepare Kansas City students for the entrepreneurial economy? Think about it.