Students in my classroom at Vista Ridge High School in Cedar Park, TX are starting businesses. Yes, actual startup companies. Up until March when our school transitioned to remote learning, students spent in-class time building business plans, websites, marketing strategies, and securing funding. Groups have their own business bank accounts, pay income taxes under their company name, and file for LLCs legally with the secretary of state to become actual entrepreneurs at 16 years old.
Like most of the working world, students in our entrepreneurship courses made the overnight adjustment from in-person collaborative sessions to Zoom meetings, instant messaging, email, Google Classroom and the Google Cloud for Startup’s platform to build their businesses from a distance.
Although we would all prefer to be in the classroom together, this crisis has prepared students for the real world, post-pandemic. This taught them that many outside factors beyond their control can affect their future plans, goals, jobs, and working conditions. They have learned about time-management and self-motivation. These are tough lessons for teenagers to learn. Most adults still struggle with these skills, but I believe this experience has taught them to make adjustments on a dime and continue to move forward after things don’t turn out as they had hoped.
Thankfully, it was easy to adjust the INCubatoredu and ACCELeratoredu course curriculum to fit our distance-learning requirements. Students finished out the school year by participating in a virtual Shark Tank-style pitch competition vying to win funding for their business ideas. The adjustment was quite simple actually.
Instead of in-person pitches, students submitted videos for the board of advisors to review. Next, each team got a 15-minute Zoom session with the board to answer questions about their company. Later that evening, we held a Zoom award ceremony announcing who would move onto the next round.
When students have access to the right tools, they are able to drive their own learning. A number of them are pursuing development certifications with Qwiklabs, being mentored by Google employees in Austin, and getting accepted to the top business, entrepreneurship, and development schools in the nation. Here’s a summary of their businesses.
B-Line Navigation, LLC
“I love my mom, but I can't stand going to the grocery store with her,” said Ben B., B-Line co-founder. “She never comes prepared with a list, and we end up impulsively wasting a lot of time and money there. We've tried the curbside services, but they make executive decisions on products we may or may not want. After discussing this experience, my team and I realized we all had a similar problem. So we needed a way to expedite in-store shopping.”
B-Line is a navigational app that finds the best route through a grocery store based on the customers' shopping lists and shopping preferences. Each shopper has a profile connected to their shopping lists which can be shared between members of a household. Using the store-specific planogram, a route relevant to the shopper can be devised. Shoppers are offered advertisements and coupons specifically pertaining to items on their list during their route. By finding the customer's best route for their household's list, B-Line aims to be the one and only app necessary for enhancing the shopping experience.
B-Line used Google Cloud for Startups to build their website. They also use a database of contact information called Discoverorg to get names and emails to grocery store higher ups to implement the product to make the shopper’s experience better. Amir H., the CTO, takes online courses on Google Qwiklabs to learn the ins and outs of the application engine as well as being able to navigate the Google Cloud platform as a whole.
No No Zone, LLC
No No Zone focuses on lessening the frustrations of pet owners when their pets damage their furniture and help them manage their pets when they are away from home. Seniors, Kiidiyah M., Shelby C., Noah B., and Christian H. decided instead of waiting for someone else to solve the problem, they’ll do it themselves.
“We use a camera to recognize pets and if they are in specific zones the user marks as a ‘no no’, explained the team of students. “When the pet enters the zone it makes a noise alerting the pet to get out of the zone.”
We used Google Domain to buy our domain and host our website, and Google Sites to make the website. Ongoing, we use Google Analytics to keep track of our social media traction and website traffic.
You’ve probably been in a position where technology failed you. The Gleam team heard horror stories from business professionals losing precious presentation time because their devices wouldn’t connect to the projector. Julia R., Gabriel F., Sarwesh P., and Cameron C. solved the problem.
Gleam is a portable projector the size of a cell phone that allows for easy connectivity no matter the operating system. Gleam alleviates the pressure of dysfunctional technology and solves the difficulty of setting up and presenting during meetings, events, etc. Gleam Innovations’ website was built using Google Cloud for Startups. The team also uses Google for business emails.
COVID-19 has forever changed the way we teach. Thanks to the entrepreneurship curriculum, my students are moving on to attend top colleges throughout Texas and the nation to study business, computer engineering, data science, game design, marketing and more. They have gained essential skills that classes before them never had the opportunity to hone. The experience of building businesses they are passionate about has taught them more than any test or presentation ever could.
When you give students the freedom to learn, they rise to the occasion. Lean into this; stay flexible, adapt and give yourself grace. Teaching constantly brings new courses, curriculum and programs your way. Embrace change, it’s inevitable!
Dana Jones is the INCubator and Marketing teacher at Vista Ridge High School in Cedar Park, TX. She utilizes Uncharted Learning’s INCubatoredu & ACCELeratoredu curriculum in her entrepreneurship courses. Connect with Dana on LinkedIn.
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