As someone with a hand in both education and entrepreneurship, Tiffany Dixon recognizes that a gap between the two is limiting potential in Kansas City schools.
“There is an ecosystem that teachers don’t realize exists around their classroom,” she explained during a “Youth: Our Future Entrepreneurs” panel discussion for Global Entrepreneurship Week – Kansas City. “So the truth of the matter is that, if teachers knew who was available to plug into their classroom, it wouldn’t be so overwhelming. Because right now, they say, ‘We can’t do everything.’”
“You don’t have to do everything if you know who to go to.”
Dixon — a social innovation teacher and the founder of NextPitch, a crowdsourcing platform for innovative youth — was joined on the panel by Craig Moore, executive director of Black Excellence KC and director of KC’s Venture for America program; Jahna Riley, director of education for the Porter House KC; and Laura Wagner, education manager at Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City.
The industry experts discussed ways to bridge that gap between youth and adult entrepreneurs.
“I think it all just comes [down] to connection,” Moore said. “We have all the dots to make the picture, but we don’t have the lines between the dots. So how can we strategically make sure that the line from (Junior Achievement) to (Black Excellence KC) to Porter House KC to the teacher is fluidly run through and also proven that it’s a strong line.”
An increasing number of students involved with Junior Achievement don’t want to take the traditional college route, said Wagner.
“So connecting them with businesses and people and mentors just to open their awareness to what’s out there for them to be able to do (is even more important),” she continued. “Because what they might want to do, might not be the same as what their parents want them to do.”
Overcoming such obstacles should be everyone’s concern, Riley said.
“Especially if you don’t have kids, I feel like sometimes it’s like, ‘That’s a school thing,’” she explained. “‘I don’t know what to do. I’m not an expert. So I’m gonna leave it to the experts.’ When the reality is that education is a public good and it’s something that we all have to do something about it.”
Educators are often tasked with bridging the gap between youth and adult entrepreneurs, but many are unprepared for the challenge, Dixon said.
Entrepreneurs pivot all the time, but that mindset and the abrupt shifts that come with it can be uncomfortable for teachers, she added, noting teachers need to be given a map to these resources so they don’t feel so isolated.
“As you give up control in the classroom and you say, ‘I don’t know everything; I need partners,’ you are giving up the relationship — one on one — with the kids into your classroom to the person who’s coming in,” she explained. “You are no longer the person with all the knowledge. I think more people struggle with the identity shift — they’re not being held to this — than I see people who are just so overwhelmed with so much work. They’re scared of the change.”
Not only can educators learn about being agile from the entrepreneurial-mindset, Moore said, they can also learn a new perspective on failure.
“As an entrepreneur, I want to fail fast because I’m trying to get to success,” he explained. “But as a teacher, failure is not an option. My failure is based on students getting left behind. So we have to change that ‘L’ from being a loss to a learning opportunity for teachers.”
Attendees of the GEW event — sponsored by Startup Grind KC, Junior Achievement, and Startland Education — also heard from organizations that are working to and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for youth, including Matt Mann with the Shawnee Parks and Recreation KidsFest Business Fair, and Jacob Moore and Hanna Hochstetler with the Front Porch Alliance. Ashley Broils also shared her story of starting her own photography business as a high school student.
Editor’s note: Startland Education is a sibling program to Startland News within the umbrella of parent organization Startland, a community-building 501(c)3 nonprofit activating vibrant, prosperous communities inspired by its starters — innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs.
This story was produced independently by Startland News’ nonprofit newsroom.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.