StandWatch Academy wrapped-up its latest expedition yesterday, and broke new ground in the approach we take to educate, motivate, and equip young entrepreneurs to change their communities through entrepreneurship. Two of the changes were intentional, but one wasn’t. The results they produced points the way to an even more impactful future.
A New Kind of Mentorship
The first change to the program involves a mentorship initiative where students have an opportunity to meet some of the most innovative and successful CEO’s and entrepreneurs in the country. On this expedition, we traveled to Silicon Valley. There, eight of our students met with Brad Smith, the CEO of Intuit, at the company’s campus in Mountain View. Brad hosted our group for lunch, answered questions, and gave us a personal tour of the company’s incredible headquarters. Truthfully, based on everything I have heard about Brad, I knew he would be an awesome mentor for the kids but I wasn’t sure how’d they react and what they would take away from the experience. I was blown away. Their questions were eloquent and Brad’s thoughts about everything from leadership to handling failure really produced a once in a lifetime experience for these young ladies. When summarizing her time on the expedition, one of our students, Haleigh Crouch, wrote:
“The meeting with Brad Smith at Intuit was so encouraging to me as a young adult and he taught me quite a few things. He showed me that there is more to work than just showing up, making money, and going home every day. You can make every day special by setting goals and achieving, and also helping your coworker achieve their goals as well. He taught me that creating a personal relationship with your coworkers and staff is very important and it produces a positive atmosphere where individuals can thrive and do their best at their job. Finally, Mr. Smith taught me that you are never too high up in a company to let people know that you care and that you want them to be the best person that they can be. Mr. Brad Smith was so humble and easy to relate to. I really enjoyed my time with him and I will remember that interaction for the rest of my life.”
Brad impacted all of the students in the same manner and encouraged them to pursue their dreams and become socially conscious entrepreneurs who improve communities. These were not hollow words, the day before he met with our group, back home in West Virginia, Marshall University announced a $25 million donation Brad and his wife had just made to the school’s business college. Marshall is located within 20 minutes of where most of our students live, and Brad is an alumnus. A gift of that size, while not directed at our students specifically, will certainly impact their community. The timing of the announcement could not have provided a better teaching point. Words matter. Words with action change lives.
Gender Specific and Smaller
The second thing that made this expedition different from others is that, for the first time, all the students were female. It was also our smallest class, with eight students instead of the typical fifteen. This was not by design; it just worked out that way. The dynamic this produced, however, was incredible and I think it may provide an awesome path forward. The female to male student ratio in previous classes was usually 3 to 1. While the experience with those groups was great, I did notice that the female students were usually more focused than their male counterparts on the academic part of the course. The girls really seemed to want something intellectually tangible from the Academy. I have no empirical explanation for why this is, but it may have something to do with the potential freedom that business ownership can provide to a woman who wants to control her own destiny, particularly in a region like ours where men dominate the business community. I honestly don’t know, but the fact that this class produced such a quality experience for everyone involved cannot be ignored. As a father with a son and two daughters, StandWatch Academy will always provide the highest quality experience, no matter who is on the expedition. But if creating all-girl and all-boy expeditions makes the experience all the better, that’s what we’ll do. Stay tuned.
Less Driving and Shorter Trips Produce a Better Experience
The last piece that made this expedition different involved time and distance. Both our spring and summer expeditions lasted eight days each, and combined, took our students to Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona. This required more than 5000 miles of driving and up to three rental vehicles and six chaperones on each expedition. The emphasis was on giving the kids a broad experience by hitting as many National Parks as we could while still allowing time in the evenings to do some sort of work on their business plans. We never stayed in the same hotel, or for that matter, the same city more than one night. The logistical headaches, coupled with the enormous costs (the summer expedition alone totaled close to $30,000) made these trips more like full-contact sports; rewarding and fun, but mentally and physically draining.
The California expedition was different. It lasted four days, involved one day seeing things in an urban environment (San Francisco), one day doing business meetings (Intuit and a company called ShotSpotter), and one day in a National Park (Yosemite). In total, we drove just under 500 miles during the entire expedition, and everyone fit comfortably in a 15-passenger van. What’s more, for the first time ever, we stayed in the same hotel for two nights in a row. It was awesome. This provided time for the students to do some work, and start each day rested and ready to go.
The ideal expedition format is probably lies somewhere between the four-day California trip and the eight-day Rocky Mountain expedition. No matter the length, including at least one to two days of CEO mentoring visits is a must.
We now have a full year’s worth of expeditions under our belt and learn something new each day. 2019 is going to be amazing.