Children Cannot Be What They Cannot See

Blog Post by Emily Kilgore-Knight

In 2006, when I became a teacher, I was not a teacher in the traditional sense. Rather, I had a business degree and work experience in various areas of marketing. More importantly, I was an entrepreneur myself, raised in a family of entrepreneurs. The day I started teaching, I had never taken a class on education in my life. I was hired as a Career-Technical Education (CTE) teacher because of my industry experience. My non-traditional path to teaching allowed me to follow my business instincts. I knew students needed meaningful opportunities to grow.

Being brought up in a family business, I’d learned how critical it was to communicate in business, ask for help, learn from mistakes, meet other people, sell my ideas, fail, celebrate success, plan effectively, adapt quickly to changing situations, and be a good writer. In that first classroom in 2006, my students generally did not have these skills. This reality provided the compass for my teaching method: a “do it—don’t talk about it” model focused on helping young people develop critical skills and qualities through experience. I’ve coined the term “Power Skills” to describe these core competencies that can be applied in any setting.

I’ve also seen how entrepreneurial today's students are becoming. Every year, more and more students are emboldened by their own ideas and are seeking out alternatives to expensive college educations. Additionally, there are far fewer barriers to entry for young people with ideas. With much greater access to markets, they can easily sell their products and services through the use of technology at low risk and low investment. I’ve seen how the traditional business planning is largely not as relevant to these young small business owners. Business planning is no longer about forecasts, projections, or just talking about a concept; it is now about actually selling, learning, and planning as their business evolves.

I’ve also seen the workforce change. Even employees of large companies are now expected to work in an independent manner. Looking at statistics on the future of work, it’s very clear kids need to know how to think, create, collaborate, communicate, network, and, most importantly, feel confident in their ability to work for themselves. 

As the 2020 pandemic ravaged the economy, the need for entrepreneurs to be more nimble and responsive accelerated to a pace never seen in our lifetime. Long after the pandemic subsides, the economy will further ripen for entrepreneurs to fill the gaps that will be created over the coming years. In Northeast Ohio, that will not come from the creation of large corporations, but through small businesses.

When I began researching curricula for EntrepreNEW, nothing existed that reflected my instincts. Most had an element of teaching an entrepreneurial mindset and skill set, but they all fell back to a traditional business planning focus because that can be quantified. Power Skills are much more difficult to teach and assess and I could not find an existing curriculum with that focus.

My instincts were further confirmed when I started to reach out to entrepreneurs. These people doing the work of small businesses every day were telling me that teaching a student the skills and mindset of entrepreneurship was far more important than teaching them how to business plan. While the plan is important, it had to be nimble and accessible, a true tool for growth and monitoring of their business, not just something developed and set aside.

When the EntrepreNEW focus groups met and spent two whole days discussing this exact thing, it was no longer just my instincts speaking, it was the market.

Today’s youths are unique, having been born in a world that is rapidly and ever-changing, shaped by entrepreneurs riding wave after wave of new technology. No longer just an outlier, entrepreneurship has become a driving economic force and a mainstream part of today's workforce. To prepare young people to thrive in today's world, education must change too. The EnterpreNEW program is a bold, unique new approach to entrepreneurial education designed to empower young people with the skill set needed to meet the demands of success in today’s world.

The EntrepreNEW Playbooks, Mentor Guidebooks, and Inspiring Entrepreneur Guest Speaker Series were developed to fuel youth Power Skill development by incorporating entrepreneurs in every stop of an adaptable business planning process.

Learn more about how you can pilot the guides, provide feedback on how to improvement, and earn a stipend.