May 17, 2018
By Paul Beck
Innovation Specialist, Colorado Education Initiative
Here’s the dilemma. There is no shortage of innovative solutions to problems in education. But, it seems the solutions never really stick. We desperately need educators, learners, and systems leaders that can take an innovation from theory to implementation and help make it stick! What we need are educational entrepreneurs.
Educational entrepreneurs are the caretakers of innovation. They are persistent and strategic infiltrators who are working to purposely disrupt the system. They design, grow, and iterate on their solutions to ensure they have the largest possible impact.
Here’s an interesting finding from The Center for Reinventing Public Education about the NGLC/NGSI systems change effort. They reported that “teachers were rarely prepared or supported to prototype and learn through iteration.” It’s the opposite for educational entrepreneurs who can hold their own space for innovation and thoughtfully learn from the failures and successes of the solutions they implement. We need more of these entrepreneurs in our midst!
One of those people is Sam Battan. I’ve been working closely with Sam, founder of the Colorado Youth Congress (CYC), to design an innovation fellowship that will run throughout the summer of 2018. While working with Sam to design the very first CEI Innovation Fellows Program, I have learned so much from him about the difference between just designing innovation and the entrepreneurial processes for actually implementing innovative solutions. In short, Sam has served as a fascinating proto-persona to help me truly understand the skills and mindsets of an innovator.
As Sam and I worked side-by-side to design the concept for the new CEI Fellows program, I discovered that risk-taking, learning from failure, and bias to act are only part of the story. While educational entrepreneurs do adhere to these mindsets, they also embody three other important characteristics that bring these innovative attitudes to life.
When I first had the opportunity to meet and get to know Sam, instead of showing me a resume, he shared his story. He told me what led him to launch the Colorado Youth Congress, whose purpose is to prepare the youth of Colorado to engage in solving the problems of inequity through civic engagement by building social capital across lines of race and income and provide students with the skills and access they need to make change happen. Sam’s experiences working with students in New Orleans and his experience working in education policy led him to uncover the problem that would define his purpose. He revealed the experiences that drove him to his purpose and how those experiences shaped his journey to entrepreneurialism. Sam’s purpose as a person is not separate from his purpose as an entrepreneur. His work is personal and it’s purposeful.
As I got to know Sam better, I learned that a key part of his identity as an entrepreneur is reflectiveness. Sam has a keen eye toward experiences and processes that have enhanced or hindered the growth of his venture. This reflective nature is key to his success because those processes and experiences will resurface in new contexts as he grows his venture. This efficiency in his learning practice has taken the idea of learning from failure and systematized it to enhance not only the content of the failure but the process of failing itself.
One of the biggest learnings for me working with Sam was about how much a person’s curiosity drives the iteration and improvement process. We talked through the process of defining the problem you are trying to solve and how he’s always been wired to think about all the questions that needed to be answered when you incubate a new venture. When you ask, “What the root cause of the problem I am trying to solve?” your idea may shift. It may shift radically. This creates the mentality that entrepreneurs prioritize curiosity. They use it to prioritize designing the right solution over running with the first and most exciting idea. This is at the heart of incubating a successful venture.
2018 CEI Innovation Fellows Program
CEI, along with our inaugural entrepreneurial partner, Sam Battan, are launching the Innovation Fellows Program for the summer of 2018. This program will support early stage entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to take their ventures and ideas to the next level by exploring the problem they are trying to solve and iterating on ideas through a disciplined inquiry cycle. We are working to support educational entrepreneurs to explore their purpose, practice reflection, and engage their curiosity to become the next leaders of change in education.