Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
Teaching high school entrepreneurs to start their own businesses is a great idea! Just reading this blog post is a great first step. But teaching students how to create their own high school businesses can be slightly overwhelming, and I get it.
Let's talk high school entrepreneurship that is engaging, effective, and not overly complicated for anyone involved.
About 14 years ago, I was asked to start helping out with the Minnesota Association of Alternative Program's annual high school life skills and career competition. Entrepreneurship was one of many events at the competition that our students could sign up to compete in.
I spent the next 10 years observing student business ideas at this competition, which I'm grateful for because I had absolutely zero idea how to start my own business at that time let alone teach young entrepreneurs how to do it.
I learned a ton about entrepreneurship from this experience and brought that knowledge back to my experiential high school classroom.
The business ideas at this competition were hypothetical. Students did all of the things required for developing a business such as writing a business plan and conducting market research but didn't actually start their businesses (most of them anyway).
But as an experiential educator, I wanted my students to have the experience of brainstorming and researching good business ideas, developing a business, organizing the details, launching the business, and operating them, which they did.
Since you're here reading this, you probably know about some of the benefits of high school entrepreneurship. But I want to slip in some benefits from an experiential educator's point of view.
Experiential learning is so powerful because learning happens through quality experiences. But not every experience is created equally, as John Dewey would say.
Quality experiences are real-world, can be applied to life beyond school walls, have meaning to individuals, and build off of each other. Again, as Dewey would say, there is continuity. One experience bleeds into the next. They are not discrete experiences with little connection to each other.
Entrepreneurship includes a wide variety of experiences that are not only connected to the idea of entrepreneurship but to life. Students practice budgeting and writing skills. They communicate and collaborate with the community. They practice creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and the list goes on.
All of these experiences together promote skill-building and lifelong learning. They prepare students for life beyond high school and not just because the nature of entrepreneurship is career-related but because the experience is deeply real and applicable to life.
How to Teach High School Entrepreneurs to Start and Operate Their Own Businesses
Since starting my own business (Experiential Learning Depot) five years ago, I have acquired even more insight into how this works and have applied experience to the resource that my students use to create and start their own businesses.
That is what this blog post is about: how to teach high school entrepreneurs to start their own businesses using this particular resource.
Implementation Options for Teaching High School Entrepreneurs How to Start and Operate a Business
I took on the practice of offering the project of starting a business to my students around spring break, which is late March or Early April around here.
My students then work with me over the next couple of months to develop their businesses. Then students launch and run their own businesses over the summer during the break, at which point, my job is done.
You could do it differently where students develop, launch, and operate their businesses over the course of an entire session or school year so that you are there for guidance during all phases of the experience, including operation.
That might mean making the experience your entire curriculum or a big piece of it. This would be a great option for those of you teaching a high school entrepreneurship class, a college and career readiness seminar, a business course, an entrepreneurship summer camp, etc.
My students use my "High School Entrepreneurs: Start and Operate Your Own Business" resource to build and launch their own businesses. The materials included in this resource guide students through every phase of the entrepreneurial experience.
With this resource your role shifts from teacher to facilitator. You guide the experience and offer support while your students use the resource templates and your support to move from dependent to independent learners.
This resource is referenced throughout the remainder of this blog post. It is a fantastic tool and takes a lot of the work off of you.
With that said, you do not need this resource to teach your students how to start and run their own businesses. You can use this blog post for inspiration and ideas and then create your own guiding materials for your students.
The Components of a High School Entrepreneurship Experience
I include a few key components into my high school entrepreneurship teaching strategy, which are all required of my students and are incorporated into the resource that I've mentioned.
My students build a digital portfolio in Google Drive that houses those required components. They title it "My Business Portfolio". They can change the name of the folder later to the name of their business.
In that portfolio they add four additional folders that represent the required components. They keep related materials and resources over the course of the experience in those folders. Here are the components:
1. Business Operations Spreadsheet:
The "High School Entrepreneurship: Start and Operate your Own Business" resource that I already mentioned includes a Google Sheets spreadsheet template to help students get started managing business operations.
Students can build off of their own copy of that Google Sheets spreadsheet template, or they can create their own business operations spreadsheet from scratch using a spreadsheet program of their choice.
Their spreadsheet includes tabs for business operations such as the business budget, inventory, client contact information, etc. Students will add sheets/tabs to the spreadsheet that are relevant to their own businesses.
For example, some student businesses might include order forms. This spreadsheet would be a great place to manage orders.
I highly recommend incorporating some business operations management systems into the experience in some way, even if it's using a spreadsheet. This is especially important if students are actually going to be running and operating their businesses.
How you choose to do that is up to you, but I have found spreadsheets to be the most user-friendly and effective tool for students. Students managing business operations in this way helps them build a variety of skills including tech literacy and organization.
Have students keep their spreadsheets or another management system in their digital business portfolios.
2. Business Plan:
Writing a business plan is a fantastic learning experience for high school entrepreneurs whether they intend on starting the business they have developed or not.
Students build technical writing skills, analytical and critical thinking skills, organizational skills, and more. In other words, if your students are starting a business, I highly recommend incorporating a business plan component into the experience.
The main purpose of writing a business plan is to attract investors. But during the phase of organizing the details and components of business plans is when my students really iron out the details of their businesses, examine business feasibility, and analyze the potential for growth. The business plan acts as a guide to developing a solid and successful business.
A business plan should include all of the components of a professional business plan such as "Executive Summary", "Market Research", and "Financial Plan".
Writing a business plan takes time and focus. It is also where financials are ironed out, which is when my students often shut down. Having guiding templates with clear instructions for each component of the business plan is essential to promoting student engagement and independent productivity.
The resource that I keep mentioning includes a business plan template that students can use to work through the details of their business plans. The template includes instructions for writing each component of the business plan. It also acts as an outline that students will later use as the backbone of their typed business plan.
If you do not have my resource, no problem! But I highly recommend creating your own business plan checklist and templates to guide students in the process of organizing the details of a business plan.
Once students have gone over the templates, ironed out the details of their businesses, and created somewhat of an outline of their business plans, they can type up their business plans.
All business plan documents, including the final typed business plan, should be added to and kept in the business plan folder in their business portfolios.
3. Marketing Materials:
Students will brainstorm marketing strategies and develop a marketing plan during the business plan writing phase. Remember, one of the components of a business plan is a marketing plan.
The purpose of adding marketing strategies to a business plan is to show investors that those starting the business know their target customers, where to reach them, and how to reach them.
Marketing is essential for a successful business. Regardless of how incredible the product or service is, the product or service has no value if no one knows it exists.
Once students have established a marketing strategy, which happens during the business plan writing phase of the experience, they can begin creating marketing materials that reflect that marketing plan.
Marketing materials could include flyers, social media images and copy, blog posts to add to their business websites (which they will also make as part of the experience), newspaper ads, social media challenges, etc.
Once marketing materials are made and ready to go, students can begin using them to market their businesses.
Students should add all marketing materials (images, flyers, documents, videos, etc.) to their digital business portfolios as they are created.
4. Business Website:
The final component of teaching students how to start a business is creating business websites. I have all of my students create websites for their businesses as an additional marketing strategy.
Their business websites offer information about the products and/or services that they offer. I ask that my students add specific pages including a homepage, a promotional page, an about me page, and a contact me page. They use the guiding template in my resource to develop these pages.
I also ask that students include a few additional features of their choice on their business websites such as video promotions, blog posts about their product or services, surveys, etc. Which additional features they wish to incorporate will depend on the nature of their businesses.
Students can use any variety of website builders to create their websites. I like Weebly because it is very user-friendly and its free version includes all of the features that a student would need to create an informational website.
Once students have created websites for their businesses they can add the website links to the marketing plan section of their business plans and begin distributing the link via social media and/or other marketing platforms.
I also have students add drafts of website content as well as copies of images or videos that they have on their websites to their digital business portfolios. It's helpful to have all of these items saved in another place in case something happens to their website and content is lost. It's just good practice. It is also a great way to keep all business-related items in one digital space.
How to Guide Students Through Business Launches and Operations
Once students have a spreadsheet developed to manage their businesses, a written business plan, and marketing materials created and ready to go (including websites), they can launch and run their businesses!
At this point, you may send students on their way to operate businesses on their own time. If you are going to help guide students through the process of running their businesses, however, I suggest incorporating the following routines in your learning day:
1. Consistent Feedback:
As with any student-led learning activity, regular opportunities for feedback are really important, especially for those students who will not naturally come to you to ask for your feedback.
I like to have weekly feedback meetings with each student or group to go over business operations, challenges, successes, etc.
I also like to have my students use each other for feedback. I like to do "project circles" once per week where all students get together and share progress and what is going on in their businesses.
Students can ask the group for help overcoming a business challenge. They might seek out suggestions from their peers. I have even had students join together to offer giveaways as a marketing strategy for all of their businesses.
2. Daily Check-ins:
A check-in, I suppose, is another form of feedback. But sometimes your students don't need feedback, suggestions, or even help. Sometimes it's you that needs just a glance at what they're doing to stay organized.
I like to do daily check-ins for my own sake more than my students' sakes. I do check-ins to get a quick glimpse or snapshot of where they are in the process of their business ventures.
Like most of the experiential learning activities that I do with my students, each student is on their own path. They are all going to be at unique points or stages of their businesses at any given time.
So I like to keep track of student businesses in a way that does not take a lot of time. "Project circles" and one-on-one meetings are more time-consuming. I do quick check-ins in a couple of different ways:
3. Business Documentation:
I like to have students document their business experiences. I let students choose how they will document the experience. Some students write in journals, some keep scrapbooks, some create video documentation, and others document business experiences on a blog page of their websites.
Students could document with writing, videos, images, and more. Some experiences they might document include a marketing event, the creation of a product that they will sell, or of them providing a service to a target customer.
At the end of the class, students share the document that they have created with the class so we can all get a glimpse into everyone's experiences running and operating their businesses.
As I said, with the guidance offered in this blog post, and great guiding resources, high school entrepreneurship can be really fun and exciting rather than daunting and overwhelming .
Teaching students how to start a business by actually having them create and operate their own businesses is well worth the effort considering the enormous impact and number of benefits that result.
If you have questions about teaching high school entrepreneurship or specifically about my “Start a Business” resource, please reach out! I can be contacted through email anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re up for it, I would love to write about some of your experiences creating high school businesses with your students. I’d be happy to showcase their businesses right here on this blog.
Good luck to you!
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Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.