In the entrepreneurial community, reaching out for advice or videoconferencing wiith an expert in another part of the country or world is commonplace, but that is not the case in entrepreneurial education in South Florida’s low-income high schools.
With a $200,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) on Monday launched its digital classrooms program. The initiative will link students to the world beyond through opportunities like bringing a speaker into multiple classes at once or one-on-one coaching on a business plan or elevator pitch. Students also will be able to interact with other classes that are part of NFTE, a global nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurship in low-income schools.
In a launch event called “Crack the Code” held at the magnet school iPrep Academy, Alice Horn, NFTE South Florida’s executive director, explained that this region’s NFTE chapter is the largest in the nation and serves 3,500 students in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. But this new digital program allows the organization to scale up its education opportunities in a big way.
“I truly believe through technology we can just explode this and we can truly bring connections with our business community to our students and to every low income student in South Florida,” said Horn.
In explaining Knight Foundation’s newest investment in South Florida entrepreneurship, Knight’s Miami Program Director Matt Haggman said the foundation supports targeted educational opportunities that broaden and diversify South Florida’s base of entrepreneurs. NFTE’s program is a perfect fit, he said, and complements myriad Knight investments designed to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem in South Florida.
“It’s in our DNA. Miami is about starting things, and now we are about the tools and the connections to propel that,” said Haggman. “And it is not only about starting things but also scaling them.”
In the first year of the program, NFTE will enable digital learning opportunities between 10 local classrooms and the business community, as well as schools in other cities. This will include videoconferencing, remote visits from guest speakers, online collaboration and social networking. Funding will also help build a user-friendly website that will provide collaborative tools for teachers and students, including class and student profiles, blogs, forums and integrated classroom lessons.
As a demonstration of the digital classroom program in action, Antonia Mobley and Monica Washington, two seniors at Miami Northwestern Senior High, pitched their business, Global Food Heaven, to virtual mentors, one just a few miles away and another on the other side of a continent.
“It’s a one-stop shop with a wide variety of multicultural recipes neatly characterized for the shopper to access on the go and in the store,” said Mobley, explaining the features of the app and the company’s business model. Lori Anne Wardi of Miami-based .CO Internet and Isabel Camargo Martinez in SAP’s Mexico City offices offered feedback and advice on marketing and scaling their business.
Horn says NFTE South Florida plans to add more classrooms to the program every year. “The ultimate vision is to create a digitally enabled global network that includes all our students, teachers and business community volunteers to create one dynamic entrepreneurial community,” said Horn
As a complement to the digital classrooms, NFTE South Florida also will be bringing a program called Generation Tech to Miami this summer. The program, which has been a success in other NFTE cities, combines instruction on technology, design and mobile app development with entrepreneurship and lean startup methods.
“The new economy requires a new skill set. Entrepreneurship and the development of that skill set is key to the viability of our community, the viability of our nation.,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the country. “If we can crack the code of success in Miami-Dade, we are providing a viable, scalable, replicable solution for the entire nation. It begins here.”