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The Value of Enterprise Education

By Shawn Hutchinson
The Value of Enterprise Education

The concept of enterprise education has been around in one form or another in national and international education settings for some time. Most models allow students to develop enterprise capabilities, or the ability to handle uncertainty and respond positively to change. These programs also help students to create and implement new ideas and novel ways of doing things, learning how to make reasonable risk or reward assignments.
Through this learning process, students can be innovative, creative, and develop a “can do” approach to turning ideas into reality. They also develop financial capabilities as well as a critical understanding of the services available to both the producer and consumer.
This approach to learning was first introduced to BCIS students by William Percy a number of years ago, and has since been developed by our Design Technology faculty. All students in Grade 8 at BCIS participate in the semester-long Social Enterprise Unit that helps them gain an understanding of a market, develop product ideas they can easily make, and sell their products with the aim of making a handsome profit. Students then donate profits from their projects to the school charity “Help a Child Smile.” The deeper purpose of the unit is to foster a number of skills in the students, such as working effectively in teams and entrepreneurial thinking.
Grade 9 students Sahara Kirwan and Mia Mason reflected on their experiences last year, commenting that the Social Enterprise Unit provided students with an opportunity to develop leadership skills, communication skills, and perseverance. Sahara said that the greatest challenges were in sharing the workload, working collaboratively, expressing ideas, and meeting deadlines.
Mia enjoyed the real-life aspect of the project and had some advice for our current group, recommending that participants always keep on top of things and respond to the formative feedback the teachers provide. It is essential to remain open-minded when brainstorming product ideas, she insists.
The project is conducted in teams of four or five students, based on a version of the Belbin Teamwork Theory, which believes that the most effective working teams have a number of different but complementary “types” within their ranks. At the beginning of the project, the students complete a survey consisting of questions designed to ascertain their “type,” after which they are assembled into working teams.
The project is designed to fit the requirements of the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) design cycle; as such, it begins with an initial investigation referred to in industry parlance as an “environmental scan.” Here, student teams are expected to brainstorm ideas and find out more about the tastes, wealth, and spending power of the market they wish to target at the annual BCIS community fair, Spring in the City.
Participants develop and conduct surveys, analyze data, and draw conclusions about their intended target market. The information gathered during this phase is crucial in helping participants develop a set of specifications for the product they will eventually create and sell.
Once a set of specs is drawn up, the fun really starts. A number of creative thinking activities are used to stimulate the students to think outside the box and brainstorm innovative ideas, the best being ones for which the raw materials are freely available—i.e., made from recycled or found components. This is not only good for the environment, it also maximizes profits. It is expected that the students actually make the major part of a product based on their own ideas, although it is acceptable for some small components to be purchased.
Ideas are then narrowed down to the three the students judge to be most viable in terms of innovation, make-ability, and attractiveness to potential customers. They are encouraged to think of the product creation process in terms of a complete user experience, considering the product they will sell, as well as the things such as packaging, product displays, and the environment of the stall they will set up at the fair.
In a later stage, students present their ideas at two “Dragons’ Den” events, named after the TV show in which entrepreneurs present their ideas to venture capitalists. At the first event, participants are asked to cost out their ideas, taking into account materials, manufacturing costs, overhead, and predicted sales. A panel consisting of teachers leaves the student presenters in no doubt as to the feasibility (or lack thereof) of their ideas.
For the second Dragons’ Den, students dress in in business attire and describe their product concept in further detail, including packaging and other aspects of corporate identity, to a panel consisting of figures from the local business community. Based on feedback from the final Dragons’ Den panelists, students make final adjustments to their products and go into full-scale production in preparation for the big day.
On the day of Spring in the City, the students are at school bright and early setting up their stalls for the onslaught of visitors. In previous years, every group has made a profit of one sort or another, which they donate to “Help a Child Smile” to allow children with cleft lips and palates get badly needed surgery. Last year, Grade 8 students raised over 12,000 RMB (US$2,000) through sales.
The unit succeeds on a number of levels. It helps students realize that social enterprise is something they can participate in and succeed at without taking huge financial or personal risks. This gives them the confidence to develop further ideas on their own. It also brings home the realization that, through the implementation of a clear process and positive collaboration with others, ideas can successfully be parlayed into profit for the benefit of those less fortunate.
Success in helping others brings with it a great sense of achievement and empowerment. The project also teaches students important life skills related to creative collaboration and teamwork. Most importantly, it teaches students to be more than mere consumers. Rather, they are empowered to shape the future of the products and services we all use in a way that is sustainable and benefits society as a whole.

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