St. Margaret's Leaders Bring Entrepreneurial Studies to Campus

St. Margaret’s 2016 Strategic Plan calls for a focus on innovation and expanded entrepreneurship and experiential education programs for our students. It was this inspiration that led Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem and Upper School Principal Tony Jordan to The Educator’s Workshop for Entrepreneurial Studies this summer to learn alongside a small cohort of innovative independent schools from across the nation.

The two school leaders learned and utilized first hand an innovative entrepreneurship methodology, Lean LaunchPad, created by Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Steve Blank. Held at Mr. Blank’s private estate, the K&S Ranch in Pescadero, Calif., the workshop was presented in partnership with the Hawken School that runs an entrepreneurship studies program utilizing Mr. Blank’s model.

According to Stanford University where Mr. Blank teaches a course on Lean LaunchPad, the methodology is a reversal of the traditional approach to entrepreneurship, which historically meant developing a business plan behind a desk, pitching it to investors, forming a team, building the product and then selling as hard as possible. Blank’s method reduces the high, upfront costs that would normally come with developing and perfecting a product before debuting it to the world.

“Gone are the days of students running a lemonade stand to learn the basics of a balance sheet. The nature of teaching entrepreneurship in schools is changing to reflect the true process of innovation that turns small start-up companies into highly successful businesses,” said Mr. Dahlem. “Today’s entrepreneurs search for new markets and business models rather than execute existing ones. To truly understand this process, students need to learn new skills including testing hypotheses, validating customer needs and defining value propositions.”

“The content of the workshop aligned so well with our strategic plan goals of expanding experiential learning opportunities and incorporating entrepreneurship,” he said. “It also affirmed design thinking as the framework we are using to guide the innovation process of implementing the entire Strategic Plan.”

Mr. Jordan added, “We were excited to see models of how design thinking and entrepreneurial studies can be incorporated into secondary school settings. Several other leading independent schools presented their models—what works, what didn’t—and allowed us to consider the elements that best fit our student body and, more importantly, provide experiences for the world they will soon enter.”

Their experience has led to exciting conversations about what is possible for St. Margaret’s students, and they have already planned pilot entrepreneurship studies units in the Upper School math for financial markets course this year.

“Through piloting these units in an existing course, we are able to immediately apply the methodology and gather feedback from our students,” said Mr. Dahlem.

Mr. Dahlem will co-teach the pilot units with Upper School math teacher Andrew Hammond to incorporate elements of Lean LaunchPad into the classroom. This semester, students will visit a local business faced with a problem or decision point. After learning more about the unique challenge the business is facing and conducting research outside the classroom with real customers, students will divide into teams and conceptualize ideas using the Lean LaunchPad approach. They will then pitch their ideas to the business owners.

In the second semester, the same students will apply the Lean LaunchPad methodology to create their own start-up companies, culminating with a pitch to potential investors.

“These are rich learning experiences that develop multiple skills including critical thinking, quantitative and qualitative analysis, creativity, teamwork and communication. Allowing students to engage in real world problems, where there aren’t answers in the back of a textbook, is an incredible opportunity for personal growth and preparation for life beyond St. Margaret’s," said Mr. Dahlem.

Mr. Dahlem is partnering with other school leaders to conceptualize an entrepreneurship club with alumni involvement and potential programming in other divisions. 
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An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California