Raise your hand if you’ve been impacted by the spread of COVID-19.
Is your hand up? We’ve all felt the effects of the global pandemic—and students are no exception. In many cases, with social distancing comes distance learning, and now more than ever, students need ongoing support and focus on skill-building around resilience and adaptability in the face of unprecedented change.
Distance Learning and Student Entrepreneurship
Students enrolled in the INCubatoredu entrepreneurship course in high schools around the country have spent the majority of this school year creating business ideas, getting customer feedback, and building out their MVPs. With no warning, COVID-19 upended many of these plans.
Consequently, student entrepreneurs and their teachers had to adapt. Distance learning—and much of the teaching online and through Zoom™. INCubatoredu students, like all students, are feeling the real-world pressures of maintaining normalcy in a world that feels anything but.
But with this adversity, the entrepreneurial mindset kicks in. Creative problem solving, flexibility, resistance - traits taught and developed in this class - emboldened students (and their teacher) to face this curveball head on.
We talked with INCubatoredu teacher, Brad Neubauer, from Naperville Central High School in Illinois. Brad shares how this event has impacted his students and the new challenges that emerged as an educator. We also talked with a student team in Brad’s class to hear about how these teens saw an opportunity to make a change to their business idea, and how they put their skills in action to impact the lives of essential workers in their community.
Maintaining Momentum in Uncertain Times
“The most challenging part of this transition is keeping the momentum the kids had going,” says Neubauer. “Some of my student teams were doing really well. They were potentially looking at production, manufacturing, and provisional patents for their products.”
But COVID-19 put things on hold. One student group developed a clothing brand and was ready to collect shipment and start selling clothes. Now, shipments are on hold and so is their business. Another team, comprised of student entrepreneurs Anthony P. and Michael W., made a quick change to their business model in order to help out during COVID-19.
GOAT Gifts Shifts its Business in Response to COVID-19
“Our original business was creating care packages for college kids,” said student entrepreneur, Anthony, “Parents buy the box, we create it, and then we ship it directly to the students.” Anthony, and his business partners, Michael W., Emma P., and Kenny H., call their company GOAT Gifts. “GOAT stands for greatest of all time,” Michael says.
The duo originally set out to create custom care packages for college students, based on themes chosen by parents. Now, they’re accepting donations from their community to build boxes for essential workers, instead. Between fulfilling orders and staying on top of distance learning homework, and managing part-time jobs, the students behind GOAT Gifts are busy. They stay motivated by the outpouring of support they’ve received from their community, their social media followers, and the healthcare workers sharing pictures of their smiling faces after receiving the boxes.
Entrepreneurial Mindset in Action - Adapting on the Fly
Like businesses all around the world, GOAT Gifts had to adapt quickly in response to COVID-19, while simultaneously planning for the future. The company is doing a lot of good—but the road to success has been made harder by the restraints of social distancing.
“Mr. Neubauer taught us that it’s not necessarily the idea that people believe in—it’s the person,” says Michael. “But it’s harder to believe in a person when you’re only seeing them from the shoulders-up, instead of being in person.” This unfamiliar territory has left entrepreneurs and educators alike feeling uncertain as to how or when they’ll get back to conducting business (or teaching) as usual. Or, how education (and business) may shift in order to embrace these new norms around connecting.
Thankfully, Michael and Anthony have an entrepreneurial mindset. With the help of Neubauer, the young entrepreneurs behind GOAT and their classmates know how to quickly and creatively solve problems, and pivot as necessary, and not to be afraid of ‘failure’ to see their idea through. These characteristics are essential in today’s rapidly changing and uncertain times.
“The mindset right now should be about providing learning opportunities for students,” says Neubauer. “It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be what it was. But if students are progressing and moving forward with these skills, that’s all that matters.”
Make the Best of It
INCubatoredu students love the class because it’s unlike any others they’re enrolled in. Many say it’s a taste of the ‘real world’ and provides purpose to learning— and now, their real-world skills are truly being put to the test. Entrepreneurship education teaches students like Anthony and Michael how to tackle complex problems, be willing to pivot when needed, and—ultimately—how to be resilient in the face of failure. GOAT Gifts didn’t originally plan to create a donation-based business model, but now, the model is working for them—and putting a lot of good out into the community.
For teachers, the work is much the same. Educators have to stay agile to continue meeting the changing needs of their students—because there’s no telling what the future will bring.
“The biggest piece of advice I can give [educators] is to understand the big picture,” says Neubauer. “Teachers need to continue to provide different learning opportunities for students, but more importantly, understand that students might have a lot on their plates right now. Touch base with your students. Let them know you’re okay, and that they’ll be okay.” His last bit of advice rings true for all of us, whether student, teacher, or otherwise: "And make the best of it."