At Vista Ridge High School in Cedar Park, Texas, entrepreneurship educator Dana Jones helps students turn their big ideas into reality through her commitment to her students, and robust student entrepreneurship curriculum provided by Uncharted Learning, NFP.
To power up business ideas, these students now have access to a suite of services provided by Google, free of charge, through a partnership between Uncharted Learning and Google. As a Google Startup Referral Partner, students in the UL ACCELeratoredu program can leverage the Google Cloud platform - the platform designed to empower startups to grow and scale. To better understand this relationship, we caught up with three of the 30 students in the ACCELeratoredu class at Vista Ridge High School, Leander ISD, Texas. Amir, Garrett, and Kim give us a behind the scenes look at ACCELeratoredu and the partnership benefits.
Q&A with Educator Dana Jones & ACCELeratoredu Students
Tell us about the ACCELeratoredu curriculum.
Dana: This program follows a course called INCubatoredu. In this rigorous course, students are charged with developing real life businesses to solve problems they have identified with guidance from the curriculum. Students are charged with conducting problem and solution interviews with their target markets. From there, they develop a product or service that will address the need, create a business model, and by December are pitching their Minimum Viable Product to a panel of judges.
How are students graded?
Dana: Grading is not as simple as testing them on concepts, as everyone is at different stages and learning different things through their unique business experiences. One group may be working with a designer, and things that are out of their control could be delaying them. This can be challenging to grade, but exciting to experience!
To tackle this, we use what’s called a sprint. Students set a sprint goal that we then review at the end of the week. They demonstrate that they did what they set out to do and if not, ‘why’?
Students will have a sprint retrospective meeting where they look at their sprint goal and determine how the next sprint can go more smoothly. I grade on their weekly sprints rather than on any set standards. Whatever they plan to do, that's what’s graded.
What are some of the projects your students are working on right now?
Dana: Right now we are preparing for their Minimum Viable Product (MVP), an opportunity for students to get about $300 to test their solution. In May, we have a final pitch, where every team pitches their idea, and four to five winners are selected. This year, we have eight teams in our program.
This isn't just a school project, this is an actual business. I bet the students are excited about that concept.
Dana: Absolutely! It's innovative and the direction that education should go. In Texas, two of us ACCELeratoredu teachers are helping to write the TEKS, the standards for entrepreneurship in Texas. Uncharted Learning and these student entrepreneurship programs are definitely changing things here in Texas. And we're proud of that.
Tell us more about your relationship with Google Cloud for Startups
Dana: Our students gain access to Google Cloud for Startups as well as $3,000 worth of Google credits, free access to the Google Suite and more. Students are offered the opportunity to highlight their relationship with Google on college applications - we've had two of our students accepted into collegiate entrepreneurship programs after speaking to experiences in these courses and their relationship with Google!
With this partnership, students also have access to Qwiklabs, which is a group of training courses. One student, Amir, has already done quite a bit of programming, and he’s going to have a big jump on his peers because he’s been studying this in high school.
Amir, tell us a little more about Qwiklabs.
Amir: So far, I’ve completed introductory courses in the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). We haven't actively integrated it into our business, but we're learning and exploring how to do it. For the app businesses, there are a lot of features and assets within the GCP that help a lot.
From data processing to app scalability, to just ease of access and maintenance, there are tons of different features built into the GCP. That is really, really useful.
Amir, what is your business?
Amir: Our company is B Line. We're a navigational app that lets you enter your grocery list and your preferences, and it will take you to the nearest store with the best deals. And once you get to that store, the app will navigate you through the store with the fastest route and the most efficient way to save money.
How is this class different than some of the other classes you have during your day?
Garrett: INCubatoredu is a really cool opportunity because it gives us the space to work on a real project. It's something that can become reality, whereas in a other classes, it's more about learning the theory behind it. This is much more hands-on.
Amir: When you walk into this classroom, it doesn't feel like a classroom. You feel much more free and open to do what you need and want to do, rather than being restricted.
Do you think this will help you when you fill out college applications?
Garrett: Absolutely. I've already applied for and been admitted to the May School of Business at Texas A&M. I am focusing on Management with an Entrepreneurial track. I'm using the techniques that I've learned here, as well as the connections that I've made. I'm hoping to get a lot of use out of what I've learned in this class.
Do you think that you would have thought about or wanted to go into entrepreneurship without this class?
Kim: No, I definitely would not have. Before this class, I liked Marketing. Psychology, Theater. I was going in a bunch of different directions trying to find a way to unite all of my passions.
This class made me realize that I can do a lot of things I really like—like research, acting, theater, and psychology—all in one thing, which is Marketing and Entrepreneurship. I like how hands-on this is - creating something from scratch and building it up into a product and a vision.
Kim, what is your business?
Kim: My business is No-No Zone. We are a camera that watches your pets when you’re away from home. Cameras similar to this exist and will notify you when your pet moves or does something it shouldn’t, but a lot of customers run into the same problem: “I see my pet doing this, but how can I respond to the problem? I’m an hour away!”
Our product gives you a way to discipline your pet when you’re gone. When your pet enters a No No Zone, the camera makes a noise that startles your pet to get off the area.
Kim, how do you use the Google Cloud Platform?
Kim: I use Google Cloud third-party apps for marketing, analytics, website building, financials, etc. Any time I have a problem, I'm like, “Okay, I need something to help me solve this problem”, and I head to Google. For example, if I want to track my social media feed, I go to Google Analytics and the data is there. All I have to do is analyze the information.
What are some of your biggest takeaways from these courses?
Amir: For me, when I began, it all just started off as a dream. It was just an idea. But as soon as you get the actual funding, you can’t wait to complete it. People actually investing money in your idea and approving of the idea feels nice. And actually going out and making it a real thing is just as exciting.
How has Ms. Jones shaped your entrepreneurship education experience?
Kim: I can't really voice how much Ms. Jones helps us. I couldn't imagine doing this with any other teacher, even though she's not standing over us every day telling us what to do. She cares from the very bottom of her heart. She's just wonderful.
Garrett: Absolutely. I think she's wonderful at direction because it's much more self-paced in this type of curriculum. It's much more self-driven. If we're not on the right path toward completing a goal or even setting a goal, Ms. Jones will help us correct that. She's great at pushing the teams that need pushing, but not over doing it to the point where they lose faith in the process or lose faith in the class, and they stick with it.
Entrepreneurship Experiences can change lives
Education is changing. In Texas, Teachers like Dana Jones bring to life the power of INCubatoredu and ACCELeratoredu, and are transforming the way students think about school and their futures.
Read more about how one school district re-imagined business education and transformed the student experience.