Starting-up Startups

CA Curious

Starting-up Startups

September 26, 2019

I arrived in our nation’s capital after a sleepy five-hour bus ride with the junior class. As I stepped off the bus on to The George Washington University’s campus, I looked around at the many students, food trucks, and scooters. The energy palpable, I was struck by GW’s intimate campus environment despite its location in the heart of a big city. 

Starting our tour, we crowded around the front of a diminutive sculpture of a hippopotamus, it’s mouth agape. The tour guide had just launched into an animated explanation of the origins of this famous (and altogether unexpected) unofficial GW mascot, when a professor approached and asked if he could interrupt.   

“I am the Director of Entrepreneurship for the university,” he announced with the tour guide’s assent. “We are lucky enough to be able to give $600,000 a year to our students to help them develop their own businesses.And, just like that, he walked away.  

Jaw-dropping figure aside (wow!), I was struck by his enthusiasm. And, I get it. Few things are exciting as empowering students to pursue their passions, as having the opportunity to mentor and guide their process and experience the fulfillment of watching what was once a mere hint of an idea—as it is coaxed through prototype after iterative prototype—develop into reality.  

In short, I was happy to discover a connection, an institution kindred in CA’s spirit.   

This year, the Center for Community Engagement is launching our own entrepreneurship initiative. A natural outgrowth of our commitment to innovation, entrepreneurial programming at CA will offer students outlets to explore their entrepreneurial interests, both in and out of the classroom; to take risks in a safe and supportive environment; to pursue their ingenuity and creativity; and to stretch themselves to learn and grow. 

In the classroom, T2 will see the launch of CA’s first dedicated entrepreneurship class that will teach students how to get an original idea into the marketplace. Leveraging design process and design thinking and a variety of resources, tools and materials, student will explore the challenges and opportunities of product development and its potential for success in the marketplace. They will have opportunities to prototype a product or service to test its viability for development, while learning the ins and outs of marketing, branding, financing, and implementing a business plan.  

At the beginning of the year we also introduced a new StartUp Challenge Entrepreneurship Club in the Upper School. Participation in the club offers students the opportunity to participate in various nationwide entrepreneurial challenges, including the Conrad Challenge. 

An annual, multiphase student-driven innovation and entrepreneurship competition, the Conrad Challenge tasks students with identifying relevant real-world issues. Then, guided by teachers and industry experts, students work together to bring to life commercially-viable innovations that have the potential for positive global impact. 

As we look to prepare our students for the future, one thing is certain: the careers of tomorrow may be altogether unknown to us today. However, the types of skills developed through these entrepreneurial programming—business acumen, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication, design thinking developedwill undoubtedly be critical and serve our students well far into the future.  

Just as The George Washington University does, we are breaking new ground to celebrate the ‘outside of the box’ teaching and learning, and for what that contributes to our community and our future, I am proud. And, while we won’t be able to offer that jaw-dropping GW-level funding, we do expect the program to pay richly in learning dividends.  


Written by Danielle Johnson-Webb, Director of Equity and Community


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