Teaching Entrepreneurship through the For-Profit MakerSpace
I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship and its related topics. From running a business, to the way money and markets work, to behavioral economics, finance, marketing, and advertising, I find it all to be fascinating. While we now have mandatory finance classes and more business electives for high school students in Jersey, it wasn’t that way when I was there. I think the lack of exposure to entrepreneurship has made my life more difficult. I’ve made a lot of expensive mistakes as I taught myself the hard way about credit cards, balancing checkbooks, budgeting, and mortgages and probably missed out on opportunities like investing in the stock market or starting early on my retirement fund.
Exposing students to entrepreneurship is more important than ever. In five years, everyone will be treating entrepreneurship with the same reverence currently reserved for STEAM. If you have been following some of the predictions and research about the future of jobs, many jobs, up to 60%, face the possibility of being computerized or automated. Whether this comes to pass or not, and it looks like it will, jobs in management, business, and finance will continue to be in demand and generally safe from the robots. What’s even better, it is only going to get easier and cheaper to start your own business. I want my kids to be ready for the work force of the future and become familiar with entrepreneurial skills sooner, rather than later. I want to do this in the most student-centered, authentic way possible, so… I built them a store. Gizmos is open for business!
Using WordPress, Woocommerce, a few key plug-ins, and advice from my buddy MJ Linane, I’ve built a fully functional online school store! With the setup I’ve created, modeled after Amazon, I’m able to offer every student their own online store. Students will be in charge of every aspect of their store: they can name it, design it, stock products, create coupons, host sales, advertise, and do everything else an entrepreneur needs to do.
As store admins, Katie and I approve everything students do in their store before it makes it to the live site. Vendors will be able to see a store’s sales through a series of charts and graphs, and each store will be responsible for helping keep the Gizmos book. We will keep the book public for transparency and our wonderful business administrator has agreed to come in every couple weeks and compare her official book with the students’ book. When an order is placed, students will be responsible for all phases of customer service. With this setup, we hope to better engage and motivate our students in learning the STEM skills we offer in our Innovation Lab, entrepreneurship and it’s tangential skills, and teach pride in ownership.
The store also helps solve some problems inherent in our (and most) makerspace. Because students have autonomy to choose what they work on in the Innovation Lab (I don’t believe in mandatory fun) and we only see them for an hour each week, finishing projects in the Lab can be hard for my fifth and sixth graders; students often come in wanting to try something else. Giving students the opportunity to sell products will help them see a project through to the end. Additionally, knowing that their may be an end user for their product, students will be more thoughtful to the design thinking process and will iterate more. So far, since I rolled out Gizmos last week, some students have even been designing and tinkering at home so they have more products of better quality for their store. I think it’s working!
Another problem Gizmos helps solve is waste management. Students deconstruct a lot of tech in the Innovation Lab. When finished, the tech was destined for the dump. We didn’t like that, so we we instituted a Parts to Arts Quest (steal them). Students can now upcycle tech and turn it into jewelry, sculptures, or other pieces of art to sell in their store. I’m excited to see less waste and more art in the Innovation Lab now. Further, the store helps me manage the 3D printers. Everyone wants to print, but having 300 students printing on machines with a 75% successful print rate… it’s just not possible for everyone to always be printing. Now, students place their 3D designs in their store. If someone buys their design, we print it. This helps determine how and when we use the 3D printers and will hopefully motivate students to spend more time on their 3D designing.
We hope that Gizmos will solve the biggest problem any makerspace faces: funding. Customers will pay real money for student work in Gizmos. We accept checks and have secured an SSL certificate so customers will be able to pay by credit card, debit card, and PayPal by the end of the week. The real money we make will go back into the program. We plan on giving students virtual commission on their sales that they can then use to buy things they want from Gizmos using their credit. With the millions of dollars(!) we plan on making with Gizmos, we hope to do a few things: we hope to become the first self-funded makerspace in the country. We hope to be able to buy more supplies and great stuff for the lab at no cost to the taxpayers. We also hope to get to a point where we are making enough money that we can offer Innovation Scholarships to staff and students, so they can start to bring making where it belongs: the classroom. The makerspace is doomed, after all.
We are in the process of pushing Gizmos into our elementary school and will stay in Beta until the end of the year. We’re having so much fun collaborating with students and staff on Gizmos. Students recommended securing a deal with our awesome art teacher, as they think selling their artwork online would be really cool. I’m sending a team of negotiators to work out the details soon. We also want to sell spirit wear year round, and maybe open up vendor opportunities to school sports teams to sell their swag or even the PTA and other school-focused groups. We want to offer services in the Labs, too. We think services like engraving with the Glowforge we hope to get, iDevice repair, website building, graphic design, computer repair could be beneficial to the community and profitable for the program. We have been tinkering on bikes after school, and our tinkerers are looking to open a full fledged bike shop behind the school named — wait for it — (re)cycle! The possibilities are endless and in just a week, students are starting to realize that. I couldn’t be more excited with the way Gizmos and entrepreneurship is taking our Innovation Lab and STEAM instruction to the next level. Stay tuned!
Until Next Time,