Treat an Educational Initiative like a Startup

I have been in higher education for over fourteen years and have watched lots of educational initiatives from departmentally to statewide come and go over the years. It recently dawn on me that we need to treat an educational initiative just like a startup company.

I have been involved lately with a number of tech groups around Orlando that have a various entrepreneurs and founders at all levels who are starting technology related startups.  After talking with many of them, it dawned on me they sound just like a new initiative being developed at the college.

Startup Educational Initiative

Both educational initiatives and startups begin with an idea. An idea is born out of perceived needed of the community it will affect. Educational initiatives are created out of an idea to disrupt education from the norm or fix something to make a difference in an area of need. I’m lucky enough to work for a college that has done lots of disrupting over the years and recently won the prestige of being named the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence winner. Valencia College won on its long term efforts to dramatic increase graduation rates among minorities, training students for the workforce, and its success with the Direct Connect program with the University of Central Florida.

Just like a startup, it’s important to that an educational initiative most likely won’t be a success in its first year. Startups have come to realization it takes hard work, long hours, and dedication to improve to make a startup successful.  This is no different for a new educational initiative. The chance of a startup being a huge success in the first year is similar to playing the lottery. Many times it takes three of more years to really see results and to make an impact. It takes time, revision, and an uphill battle to see the results impact the community in a large scale. This is important to remember when working with education initiatives and waiting to see results. It doesn’t mean that an educational initiative might not need cut after the first attempt. The community, culture, and economics can all come into play with those decisions.

Just like a startup, an educational initiative needs the right people on its team. The people who will work hard and have the skills needed to make sure the initiative is successful and won’t back down when things don’t seem to be going right. You want a few founders who will own the project, find the team they need, and have the dedication to make it long term.

Just like a startup, an educational initiative needs to figure out what the customer wants or needs. In nearly every failed startup, the real problem was that customers didn’t want the product or buy into it. For most, the cause of death is listed as “ran out of funding,” but that’s only the immediate cause. Why couldn’t they get more funding? Most likely this was because they didn’t have buy in from the customer to keep it going. You have to be willing to change based on feedback from your customers in a quick manner.

Just like a startup, an educational initiative needs to figure out how they will raise the funding needed.  To make all this happen, you’re going to need money. Some startups have been self-funding– Microsoft for example– but most aren’t. I think it’s wise to take money from investors or those willing to give the initiatives a chance. Sometimes you get funding from grants but other times it’s convincing the right people at the institution to give this initiative a chance. It’s similar to getting venture capitalist to invest in your startup.

Startups come and go as fast as any small businesses today’s market. The same can be said about educational initiatives in today’s fast paced educational environment that is forever trying to keep up with trends and technology. Without various creative ideas and new initiatives from those who work in higher education every day the educational world would be even worse off. It’s important to listen and give ideas a chance. You never know what initiative will disrupt education for the good of education.

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