• Laguna

Laguna Blanca to host entrepreneurial studies conference, in sync with the school's hands-on, off-campus business program

Reprinted by the SB News-Press
In Laguna Blanca's fresh-minded Entrepreneurial Studies program, what happens on campus doesn't necessarily stay on campus.

In an educational strategy unusual for a high school curriculum, students in teacher Paul Chiment's Entrepreneurship and Innovation course are not only encouraged but required to venture off campus into working business situations and startup scenarios.

Textbooks and purely academic pursuits and grading scales aren't part of the class' business plan.

Or, as Mr. Chiment's course description says, the class "is not designed to mimic the real world, it is the real world. Entrepreneurs and innovators need to interact with a wide variety of people. This does not happen in a classroom."

Therefore, much of the class work will be done outside of the classroom and even off-campus." The description accentuates the importance of adapting to sometimes sudden changes of plan (aka "pivoting") and to failing well: "In this class, our mantra is 'fail early, fail fast, and fail forward.'"

Last week, Mr. Chiment expanded on his teaching concept for what the class description calls "A Different Kind of Class."

"Our students work in the real world," he said, "with real people and real problems. There are no worksheets or textbooks. The problems we solve are multidimensional and have many possible solutions."

Such an emphasis on real-world situations and degrees of intensity will take on new forms as the school gears up to co-present its first entrepreneur conference this June, in collaboration with Cleveland's private Hawken School.

Details of June's three-day, two-night conference are still in the planning stage, but the event will host educators from around the world, and provide information about such theoretical platforms as Alex Ostwalder's Business Model Canvas ("a scientific way to deconstruct and analyze a start-up," says Mr. Chiment), and the Customer Development Model ("a customer-centered, iterative model, developed by Steve Blank").

A teacher at Laguna Blanca for 28 years, Mr. Chiment found himself adapting to the new demands and dynamics of the contemporary business world and wanting to enrich the possibilities of his students' experience. The effort led him to think outside the box, and outside the classroom.

"I have successfully taught AP economics and AP statistics for many years," he noted, "but my students felt as though they were not getting the actual skills needed to help them start a company. I researched entrepreneurship education and quickly found that the Hawken School in Cleveland was doing some very progressive work in this field."

It was two years ago that Mr. Chiment first discovered the Hawken conference, developed by Doris Korda, the school's associate head of school and director of entrepreneurial studies.

This year, the conference gains momentum through the twin energies of the schools and moves to Santa Barbara. In addition to panels, workshops and other activities, conference participants "will work in teams on entrepreneurial projects, meet high school students who have taken the course, and, most importantly, be given the tools to start an entrepreneurship program at their own school," Mr. Chiment said.

Laguna students at the conference will come prepared.

"At Laguna," says the teacher, "one of our core values is balance. As much as I love academic learning, to best prepare students for the 21st century, traditional academics needs to be balance with experiential, project-based learning."

Entrepreneurship education is the perfect vehicle to deliver this balanced approach. "Entrepreneurial studies at Laguna is not simply a mini-MBA program," Mr. Chiment said. "Although we study issues related to creating a successful start-up, our classes teach young people how to be an adult."

Reflecting on the shifting business models in the highly volatile and potential lucrative startup age, Mr. Chiment comments that "the buzz word in entrepreneurship today is 'lean,' but few people understand the lean methodology."

"Startups can't rely on the old way of developing and selling a new product. When an entrepreneur assumes they know exactly what customers want, focuses solely on the execution of getting that product made and to market, and then relies solely on traditional marketing, they may be in for a big disappointment."

"A lean customer development approach focuses on customer feedback from the get-go and uses this feedback in an iterative design of the product. Lean entrepreneurs use a minimum viable product to gain insights into the customer, the market, and their key partners, and then hone that product to a best fit the customer segment."

Gaining direct access to such modern approaches and a changing landscape for new businesses might traditionally be the domain of economics and business studies at the higher education level. But the Laguna program accelerates the process and seeks to prepare high school students ready to take on the challenge, in situations where, Mr. Chiment suggests, "the students need to use creativity as much as they use technology, and they need to be able to defend their solutions to a panel of actual entrepreneurs and school administrators."

"We like to say that we don't teach 'lemonade stand' entrepreneurship. We put our students in challenging situations where there is not a well-worn solution path, and then we let them work in teams to find creative and innovative solutions. Students find this experience to be transformative."