StandWatch Academy has had a great year. Our program to help high school students develop social enterprises and nonprofits that make their communities better places to live is going like gangbusters. Since April, our students have written over 40 business plans that provide solutions to a wide range of problems. They have travelled over 5000 miles, visited nearly every state in the American West looking for inspiration, and explored over 10 national parks and national monuments. One of our founding principles is that the best way to build a hopeful future for young people who live in areas where new opportunities are lacking is to expose them to new things and give them the basic entrepreneurial skills they need to enact change in their communities back home. In the process, it’s possible that economies can be transformed and lives improved. Based on what I’ve seen to date, we’re nailing it.
But even with this success, there’s always room for improvement. After conducting a survey with parents and students, and combining their feedback with my own observations, some changes are in order. We are going to make some upgrades that I believe will take the academy experience to a new level in 2019.
Students Need a Better Objective
When I first started, I built the curriculum around nine basic classes that walk the students through conceptualization and marketing (mostly marketing). I purposefully left out any discussion of capitalization. As every entrepreneur knows, finding money to start a business is hard and often discouraging, so I wanted to ease students into that discussion slowly. I figured that it was better to spark passion early and temper it with financial reason later. This wasn’t a bad idea, but I need to make it a little more streamlined and integrate some basic finance into the mix.
To that end, I’ll be partnering with other institutions and organizations to narrow the curriculum so that it focuses more on business model development, rather than writing a business plan. We’ll also be adding classes on business networking and how to use tools like LinkedIn to connect with key influencers and potential investors. Which leads to the next improvement.
The meeting between our students and Brad Smith at Intuit really drove home the need to incorporate similar meetings into our standard course. I firmly believe that regions like ours are in desperate need of new ideas. Who better to nurture those ideas than people from outside our area who have been highly successful in their own sectors. My hope is to use the recognition we gained from visiting Brad to schedule more CEO visits for every class.
Change the Structure
To deliver this expanded course of instruction more effectively, I am adjusting our online, self-paced model and creating a one day workshop which will be followed by weekly or bi-weekly visits to the students’ schools where StandWatch Academy instructors and partners will sit down and work through the new design thinking curriculum together. This will be supplemented by additional online classes and capped off with an educational travel experience. I am calling the new structure the Standwatch Academy Shockwave Course. The plan right now is to hold a new class every other month. This should quadruple the impact we’re having and create better-trained social entrepreneurs who not only have a passion for their new business, but who also have the connections and communication ability to find funding and get it off the ground.
Taking it Up a Notch
After a student completes a Shockwave Course, my hope is that they’ll be motivated to do more with their models. To that end, we will give them the opportunity to get involved in a new personal mentoring program where they can receive individual tutoring and help in developing a “next level” business plan that will be worthy of an actual high-level shark tank competition. We will also work with these students to get them in front of potential angel investors. I’m calling this course the Shockwave V4 program. The expanded curriculum for V4 students will be available on our website soon. Think of it as a graduate program for our Shockwave students. Of course, these students will have automatic invites to every CEO meeting we schedule, and we are creating a book club where they can get together with influencers and discuss a list of professional development books and topics.
The final piece of the StandWatch Academy academic upgrade will be our new Shockwave Talks. Modeled closely after the popular TED Talk format, student speakers will present their business concepts in concise 10-minute speeches. Each talk is given in front of a live audience. There are no lecterns, no teleprompters, and thinking outside the box is not only encouraged, it’s required.
Now Comes the Money Discussion
As the founder of StandWatch Academy, I am totally committed to making our experienced-based learning approach available to as many students as possible. Building stronger communities is our mission and that can’t be accomplished by excluding kids who lack the means to attend our course. In 2018, 60% of the students who attended our course received half or full scholarships. The value of those scholarships has reached a little over $80,000 this year. All of that money has been generously donated by local and regional businesses, and I am eternally grateful. As the academy grows and matures, it will continue to offer need-based scholarships to applicants. However, the number and amount of those scholarships will vary based on donor support.
As we enter into our fourth year, the Academy must transition from a 100% donor-supported organization to one that uses a tuition model that is supplemented by donations rather than relying on them for survival. With the continued support from our sponsors, I will keep our door open to every student, regardless of their socio-economic status, but by relying more on kids who can support their own expeditions, it will free up donated funds for even more kids in need while supporting the expansion of our curriculum and services. This will probably be a lengthy transition process, but it’s one we need to start now.
These aren’t the only lessons of 2018, but they are certainly the most exciting. I’ll be posting more about what we learned later in the week. Stay tuned for great things.