Fueling an Innovation Spirit in Education
In business, we’re familiar with the entrepreneur – the owner of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative. Our economy relies on a steady stream of these creative risk takers. Their own initiative is their fuel. While they may have few resources to start, their ideas and progress are rewarded by an ecosystem of investors that participate in various parts of the business creation and maturation process. Each has their tolerance around acceptable risk and reward. Some invest early on the strength of the idea;, some invest late, when proof of the idea has been established by real customers. And some wait until nearly everything is proven, and then purchase the entire company when its value in the marketplace is known.
New business startups have high failure rates. Some estimate only 1 in 10 startups will reach any type of success. But the rewards are significant for entrepreneurs and investors alike. To increase chance of success, incubators exist in many cities – often near universities – to provide some infrastructure around the common startup processes that are common to company creation, like marketing support, and access to sources of capital.
Ecosystems must support the advancement of an innovation along the entire value creation path. The ecosystem in the venture business is mutually reinforcing – that is, early investors understand they are a bridge of sorts between the original idea and the resources needed to make it successful in the market. Investors work with entrepreneurs, helping to shape and refine ideas along the way. In education, entrepreneurs also exist, but unlike other markets, these “education entrepreneurs” do not operate inside of a supportive ecosystem that has become so familiar to entrepreneurs in other markets. Opponents of this venture approach in education often argue that such an approach foster the creation of many low quality, untested ideas that do not benefit students or teachers. They say that the quick return on investment Using the intrinsic rewardscriteria of the commercial process would lower the quality of educational products. However, if a critical mass of investors begin to see education as a legitimate marketplace, it could move from the domain of philanthropy to market-driven innovation.It does not need to be this way.
The current system of education improvement is slow, sub-optimized, and too expensive. It attracts much criticism about what it cannot do, but these problems aren’t translating into opportunities seized by entrepreneurs with better ideas. It’s not clear to how them how such ideas would evolve into solutions, how their risks might be rewarded, or who the investors in their idea would be.
In some locations across the country, organizations are beginning to create incubations spaces, and ecosystems called “innovation hubs” that enable entrepreneurs, investors, and education practitioners to connect in deliberate ways. The objective is to bridge the gap between idea, first implementation, research scrutiny, and realistic plans that must exist to be funded and reach larger scale. In ideal arrangements, education incubators also accelerate the matchmaking between entrepreneurial people and those who want to fund and expand these ideas business concepts that into broader practicereach a broader market with better and more valuable products.
We cannot confuse education entrepreneurialism with the “dark side” of pure commercialism. This is the fear of many educators I know who believe that profit-making motives will allow many low-quality ideas in education to take root. This is a good warning but the fear is misplaced. There are already checks and balances in the system to examine what results are achieved, like nationally benchmarked end-of-course tests, teacher effective value-added measures, standard school measures, etc. Ideas that sdo not work can be screened early using the gauges that the education community has already agreed on.
More importantly, entrepreneurial ideas can attack one of the most lucrative areas of innovation – business process innovation. Just as new business models have redefined every other part of our life (e.g., iTunes, Amazon, GPS, smart phones are all part of larger business models that leverage use these as and transform the way we consume knowledge), entrepreneurs are needed to look at the process of how we educate our youth tailored for each student, train the teachers to do it, and outfit a community to support it. This involves redefining what school means, and the connection of between formal (in school) and informal (out of school) education. It also involves aligning funders towards the same end goals, as opposed to thousands of disconnected project ideas that all seem, on their own, to be good ideas. Achieving this can, in part, be aided by a formal infrastructure that builds a more supportive ecosystem for education innovation with rewards to entrepreneurs that achieve curated, quality results.
There is much to draw from new businesses incubators that can directly translate to the education arena. Efforts should be encouraged to create a legitimate innovation marketplace where people with new ideas bring them forward because they know ideas of high-value are sought by investors who want to support them, add more resources, and bring them to even greater scales. In the process, a degree of commercial trade takes place and in that process, the best parts of free-market choices should take hold. Quality products will survive, and low quality efforts will not survive the process.