The slides aren’t advancing. There are six successful entrepreneurs on the judges panel and a crowd of people big enough to fill Google Fiber’s event space. This is Kain Evans’s chance to pitch the business idea he’s been working on for the past year to the entrepreneur judges for funding. His idea: affordable, comfortable, and convenient practice space for bands in Austin,Texas, live music capital of the world. But his slides aren’t working. This A/V issue has been experienced by many professionals and can throw even the most experienced off their game. But unlike most, he takes it in stride; he laughs off the problem and moves forward with the charisma and poise of a seasoned veteran in the venture capital game. As Kain said onstage of the technical difficulty, “Sometimes these mishaps are good — they break the ice!” He ended up getting funded. He’s in the 11th grade.
Kain was pitching his idea as one of three finalists in the first annual pitch night for Student Inc, the United States’ first PreK-12 entrepreneurial education model for public schools. He’s part of the first class to go through the high school portion of the program, and the way he handled his PowerPoint mishap embodies what Student Inc is all about.
The Student Inc model uses entrepreneurship as a lens through which to teach kids myriad skills that will help them be more prepared for the jobs of the future. In Pre-Kindergarten and elementary grades, core curricula is taught through running grade-level ventures and treating the school as a society with an economy. By middle school, students are dealing with real money and impacts by running school stores or philanthropic ventures.
In the high school component, it all comes together as a tenuous and vulnerable product: the idea for their own business. Over the next few years, the students learn to develop this idea into something that is both conceptually and financially viable. The student or team of students develops a “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) and presents it to their peers and Student Inc volunteers, who include international venture capitalists and leaders from the local business community. In a preliminary event, four of eight student teams received funding to test their MVP. Of those, three had successful runs and were then eligible to pitch for funding at our final Pitch Night, which would enable them to actually open and run their business or nonprofit during their senior year of high school.
What was most impressive in both the MVP pitch and final event was the seamlessness with which all their educational efforts united. First, there was the need to formulate a business idea, which involved extensive research and conceptual evolution and adaptation. Then, they had to crunch the numbers; each team created profit and loss statements which were scrutinized by peers and volunteers. And finally, they had to sell their idea. Selling something you helped to create brings out some of the more foundational and personal skills that can’t be assessed with an exam.
For the pitch night, there were no losers, but in the real world, that might not always be the case. The event wasn’t designed to have gold, silver, or bronze medalists; these were real business pitches for real money. The judges — these seasoned entrepreneurs and venture capitalists — were asked to evaluate the student pitches on the viability of their product and the quality of their preparation and presentations. Should they decide to fund a project, the amount was of their choosing. As it turned out, all three finalists were worthy of funding.
Two projects, Evans’s Jambox company and Animal Inspired, a non-profit venture that joins artistic talents with animal activism, were funded at $1,000 each. A student-to-teacher “quasi-anonymous” communication platform, Spether, was funded at $5,000 with a contingency plan for another $5,000 if the students meet certain targets this summer. In addition to funding, all three teams were offered significant non-monetary support from the judges: free legal help, UI/UX mentoring, free summer working spaces, and more. These experiences should prove equally as valuable as the checks, if not more so.
Student Inc’s focus is on growing students’ entrepreneurial thinking skills and experiences year over year. While many students, like those who pitched at last week’s inaugural pitch event, may go on to become entrepreneurs, we are most excited that ALL students will be better prepared for success in the 21st century, no matter what college or career path they choose. The model puts kids in charge of their own learning, and the magic of Student Inc is that the content of any core class can be taught through an entrepreneurial lens.
Student Inc is an educator-created solution for the current state of K-12 education, which is so heavily focused memorization and standardized testing. Several years ago, Bazaarvoice Foundation (BVF) had dinner with a group of incredibly innovative educators from Austin Independent School District (AISD), who were looking for a way to bring more real-world skills and experiences to their students. Over queso at that dinner, the idea for Student Inc was born. BVF was the founding funder of Student Inc, and the model was piloted in AISD during the 2015-2016 school year. Today, Student Inc serves more than 1,500 students in six AISD schools, with a vision to expand districtwide. Bazaarvoice employees participate as coaches and mentors, and BVF is still the primary funder of the program. We are so proud to be a part of this transformation in urban education and at the forefront of student entrepreneurship.
Says our CEO Gene Austin of Student Inc pitch night, “Bazaarvoice believes innovation is a core value and that it can happen at any time and at any age. So, we’re so excited to see innovation come alive at the high school level in ways we’ve never seen before. We’re excited that Student Inc is now such a big part of the Austin community.”
Learn more about how the Bazaarvoice Foundation supports student entrepreneurship through Student Inc.