Find Noble Impact at SXSWedu and SXSW Interactive!

Find Noble Impact at SXSWedu and SXSW Interactive!

Are you going to be at SXSWedu or SXSW Interactive, two of the biggest and most influential education and technology conferences, this year? If so, we hope to cross paths — Noble Impact co-founder Chad Williamson and VP of Product Erica Swallow will be out and about, seeking out the best new ways to transform education and build Noble Impact’s culture, curriculum, and digital portfolio tool. Here’s where you’ll be able to find us!

Speaking about Education Innovation

For all of the would-be technology entrepreneurs or innovators out there, please join Noble Impact product lead Erica Swallow at SXSW Interactive, where she’ll be speaking on a panel called “No CTO, No Problem: Building A Non-technical MVP” — this marks Erica’s fourth year speaking at SXSW Interactive. This year, she’ll share the story of how Noble Impact tested a concept for a student digital portfolio platform without writing a line of code.

A quick panel overview: Non-technical entrepreneurs often hold themselves back once they’ve got an idea, because they feel like recruiting a CTO to build the proof of concept is essential. This session, though, will debunk the myth that tech startups must start with a technical product. Erica will tell the story of Noble Impact’s own “non-technical MVP” and will be joined by Finnish entrepreneur Fernando Leon, venture capitalist Stephanie Weiner, storyteller John Hazard, all of whom will contribute to a conversation centered around three key questions:

  1. What are the benefits and drawbacks of building a non-technical MVP to validate or invalidate my business idea?
  2. What tools, resources, and approaches can I use to build and test my non-technical MVP as quickly as possible?
  3. Is it possible to raise capital with a non-technical MVP? If so, what are some examples of startups that have raised VC rounds without a tech product?

Join us to get inspired about starting your own venture, regardless of industry, business type (private, public, non-profit), or where your product currently stands!

Geeking Out at Panels

SXSWedu Student Privacy Panel
One of the first SXSWedu panels we attended was on student privacy. Great content and resources!
At SXSWedu (March 7-10), a four-day education summit focused on innovation in learning, our Noble duo will be focused on culture building, entrepreneurship education, student privacy, and student voice. Some of the panels and events we’ll be attending include:

At SXSW Interactive (March 11-15), a five-day conference focused around cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity, we are focused on following education technology trends and furthering our mission to build a digital portfolio platform that enables students to write and tell their personal narratives. Some sessions that have us particularly intrigued include:

Are We Missing Anything?

Let us know in the comments below or reach out on Twitter to let us know about important #SXSWedu and #SXSW sessions and events that we might be overlooking.

We look forward to seeing you at SXSW to collaborate on the future of education!

Dream Big: Notes From Visiting A Junior Achievement Competition

Dream Big: Notes From Visiting A Junior Achievement Competition

When I get the chance to speak with Arkansan high school students, my first goal is to impart a sense of “I can do anything!” through the sharing of my personal story of growing up in poverty in Arkansas to finding my calling in life and being able to support myself and others around me. If I can leave a room and have empowered at least one student to reframe his or her story and understanding of what the future could hold, I won’t be able to contain my smile for the rest of the day.

Erica Swallow speaks at Junior Achievement Youth Business Competition
Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow speaks at the competition.
I was honored, then, to give the keynote presentation at the AT&T Youth Business Challenge, hosted by Junior Achievement of Arkansas, a non-profit organization that has brought financial literacy, career readiness, and entrepreneurship curriculum to students in Arkansas since 1987 — where I got to experience just that… A handful of students thanking me in person afterwards for sharing my story. [Thank you to Junior Achievement of Arkansas board member Mitch Bettis for the invitation to speak — one of my passions is working with driven, young leaders.]

Speaking with students is just as meaningful and educational for me as it is for the students, though. I arrived early, so that I could see the business competition in action. It consists of a multi-quarter business simulation, in which students work in teams to analyze market trends and set business budgets accordingly, for each quarter. At the front of the room, a couple of Junior Achievement staffers run the simulation, while students buzz away energetically at their team stations. Like in the “real world,” students aren’t notified of how many quarters their businesses will “run” — it’s simply an ongoing cycle that they must plan as they go, feeding on market performance.

Though the simulation software was old-school, 64-bit design, the learnings behind what the students were doing were only lessons I learned in college. Students were asked to look at past market performance — including units of their product sold, profits achieved, and total market share achieved — to adjust marketing dollars, number of units produced, and pricing, among other details.

As I’ve been from time to time since moving back to Arkansas six months ago (after a decade on the East Coast working and attaining two degrees in business management), I was impressed with the education and performance of some of Arkansas’s students. Had someone thrown me into a simulation like the one presented at Junior Achievement when I was in high school, I’m not confident I would have grasped the concept immediately. It is thanks to the resources that have been presented to or available to these students that they have the opportunity to attempt and excel at such exercises — exercises that help build an analytical mindset.

What I also enjoyed seeing was that attendees included high school teams from all backgrounds, including Benton High School, eStem High School, McClellan High School, Maumelle High School, Conway High School, Little Rock Christian, the Boys & Girls Club of Whetstone, Hall High School, Bauxite High School, and Second Baptist Church, among others. While many of the schools boast funding and special interest in economics and business education, some of the representative schools don’t have as many resources, though they likely have educators who are determined to give their students just as much access to opportunity.

2004 FBLA State Conference
The 2004 FBLA State Conference made my scrapbook.
These are the types of early opportunities that made me who I am today. Though I hadn’t heard of Junior Achievement while in high school, a very similar experience — participating in the Future Business Leaders of America state competition — was a perspective-altering experience for me. A few things happened. I:

  • Traveled to our state’s capital for the first time ever
  • Was given an opportunity to showcase my talent in impromptu speaking
  • Witnessed other driven students excel at their work
  • Was coached and given feedback by our FBLA advisor, and
  • Bonded with my classmates who cared about their futures, too.

Perusing through the handful of scrapbooks I made while in high school, it’s easy to see that the moments that made a huge impact on me all shared the above traits. Other meaningful entries in my scrapbook include competing in the first national electric vehicle competition with my high school team in Atlanta, Georgia; marching in a parade with my high school band at Disney World in Orlando, FL; and attending Universal Dance Association dance camp with my high school dance team in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

The Junior Achievement business competition I attended this month brought back those memories for me. For some students, I learned, it was the first time they had visited their state capital. For others, it was the first time they had worn business attire — in one case, a club advisor had helped the school’s team shop for proper attire.

These are the events and moments in Arkansas that mean a lot to me. I hope we can do more of this moving forward.

And on dreaming big… I took one sticky note with me to the podium to remind myself of the key points I wanted to hit in my keynote speech, as well as in the questions and answers session. I’ll share those four points with you, as well as a few sentences about each:

  1. Dream big. As a senior in high school, my high school counselor advised me not to attend my dream school, New York University, because my “family couldn’t afford it.” Little did she know, I would be supporting myself, and I wasn’t letting anything get in the way of me and my dreams.
  2. Take initiative. When I got to NYU, I needed to earn money to pay for school. I immediately noticed these flyers that said I could be a part of consumer behavior studies; after the first one, I was so intrigued that I contacted the professor who was running the experiment to learn more about the study. He was so impressed with my curiosity that he offered me an internship. I was the first freshman to ever work for him; his other interns were graduate students. Initiative pays off.
  3. Know your worth. Coming from Arkansas, where I had worked at Mazzio’s Pizza for three years prior to college, I had understood that my “worth” was about $5.15 per hour, the then minimum hourly wage I was earning. New York was a whole different ball field, though. I nearly tripled my wage with that move. And had I not had a mentor who explained salary negotiation to me right out of college, I would have cheated myself out of about 50% of my “worth” at my first full-time job. Research and knowledge are key. Don’t fall in the trap I did for a year out of school! That’s a lot of potential earnings I could have put towards my student loans!
  4. Never settle. Lastly, we are all capable of anything we put our minds to — it’s not always a lone endeavor, remember! Early in my career, I accepted a few roles that were definitely not a fit for me, all for the wrong reasons. I settled, because I thought it’d lead to something I’d like more. I settled, because I thought I’d be able to morph the role to better suit me once I got there. I settled, because the team really wanted me. Settling only leads to feeling unsettled. When you feel like you’re about to settle, keep moving forward and ask yourself, “What is it that I really want?” Find the answer, and do that!

In a nutshell, the above is what I hoped to convey to the Junior Achievement competition teams when I took the stage. One indication that I made an impact was a particularly thoughtful question from a student in the audience named Afraz, “What gave you the drive to become an entrepreneur?” For one, I answered, it was being a first-generation college student, knowing that by going to college, I would change the history of my family. Secondly, though — and I’m only just now reflecting on this — it was the opportunities that were provided to me that enabled me to see that I could be more than what was expected of me, and that I could attain any future I imagined for myself.

I hope that my talk was inspiring for students — that they, too, realize they can achieve their biggest dreams in this lifetime. I’m certainly still reaching for mine!

If you’d like to get a better look at what the day at Junior Achievement was like, check out Junior Achievement of Arkansas’s “AT&T Youth Business Challenge” Facebook photo album.

How High Schoolers Are Using Lean Startup

How High Schoolers Are Using Lean Startup

Lean Startup Conference LogoThis video was produced by the Lean Startup Conference, where Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow gave an IGNITE talk about Lean Startup in the high school ecosystem. Learn more about Lean Startup in the high school setting in the blog post she penned leading up to the speech.

High schools across the nation are implementing Lean Startup methodology in entrepreneurship, business, and marketing courses. Erica Swallow, VP of Product at education non-profit Noble Impact, at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference, shared the story of how her team is empowering students to get out of the building and solve the problems they see in their communities. See the video recording of her five-minute, lightning-style IGNITE talk below! (IGNITE talks, by the way, are five minutes total, with 20 slides, 15 seconds each. Phew!)

Learn more about how Noble Impact uses Lean Startup in the classroom in Erica’s more extensive blog post.

How Lean Startup Is Changing High School Education

How Lean Startup Is Changing High School Education

Lean Startup Conference LogoThis post originally appeared on the Lean Startup Company blog, where Noble Impact VP of Product Erica Swallow guest blogged about Lean Startup in the high school ecosystem in anticipation of her IGNITE talk at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference.

All across the world, educators are seeking ways to better engage students and prepare them for life after high school. In poll after poll, students tell us that their education doesn’t seem relevant; they don’t see a purpose behind the daily grind, the homework, the standardized tests.

For some, Lean Startup is a part of the solution.

The Problem

So, what is it about high school that disengages students? Take a look at most high school classrooms across America, and you’ll find the answer. Students sit chair behind chair, desk behind desk, in a seemingly endless matrix, wall to wall, while at the front of the room, a teacher commands the class and delivers content, only stopping to answer the occasional question.

Teamwork is practically unheard of, and students are asked to memorize formulas and historical dates to regurgitate on tests that will rank them within their class, school, and the entire national education system.

Students aren’t ignorant, though – they see the difference between the education system and what the “real world” looks like. They want an education that will set them up for success in life after high school, not one that will deflate their creativity year-by-year, until their only hope is to graduate and go to college or get a job.

We must give students a better system, one that is deserving of their time, efforts, and talents.

Coaching Up the Classroom

Noble Impact Scholars

Noble Impact scholars choose words that
resonate with them about the entrepreneurial journey.

What would it look like if we flipped the classroom equation and put students at the center of their education? What if we challenged students to determine the course of their own educational journeys, to customize it based on their interests and the problems they ultimately want to solve in the world? Instead of teachers, we’d act more as coaches, facilitators of learning.

Students at Noble Impact take a purposed-based approach to their work, and they frequently ask, “Why?” We train students to dig deep – whether they are in the classroom, at one of our out-of-school events, or at home – to question the purpose behind what they’re doing. When students see the purpose in their work, they find relevance, and they’re excited to contribute.

The Lean Canvas and Lean Startup methodology have been invaluable tools for those exercises.

Applying Lean Startup to the High School Setting

Greta Kresse and Olivia Fitzgibbon Noble Impact Scholars

Noble Impact scholars Greta Kresse and Olivia Fitzgibbon white board
at an event about challenging the existing opportunity gap in education.

Lean Startup as a business development philosophy prioritizes speed and learning over perfection – it asks the entrepreneur to define success in terms of “learning how to solve the customer’s problem,” as Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup,” puts it.

Lean Startup, then, is a natural fit in a project-based learning environment, where students are challenged to work on projects in line with their interests and the problems they want to solve. Lean Startup teaches students to focus on people, to understand what a customer is and how to solve his or her problems.

Instead of sitting in chairs all day long, students are asked to “get out of the building” to do customer research, define a problem, build MVPs (minimum viable products), and validate the assumptions their business models rely upon. Students aren’t used to adults handing over the reigns, but with the right facilitation, students can and do shine when they’re asked to build, measure, and learn.

Building Noble Impact Initiatives

At Noble Impact, students work in many different environments with Lean Startup methodology, both in the classroom and beyond.

Last year, in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service, for example, we launched the country’s first-ever High School Startup Weekend, devoted solely to high school entrepreneurs. With 80 student participants in grades 9-12, the event saw ideas that included an online homework management tool, a portable storage locker company for outdoor events, a nail polish pen, and a “don’t forget your cell phone” smartwatch app, among others.

Innovation isn’t just an after-hours affair, though. Students also work on business ideas in class using Lean. At eStem Public Charter Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, for example, Noble Impact scholars work with local businesses and on their own ideas, interviewing customers, mocking up MVP ideas, and actually building their own businesses. In fact, we currently expose Lean Startup to students in grades 5-12 and will soon expand all the way to kindergarten.

Bolstering High School Entrepreneurs

Sydney Brazil Noble Impact Entrepreneur

High school entrepreneur Sydney Brazil founded her own “donut holery”
called The Hole Thing through her Noble Impact coursework.

High school entrepreneurs are treated as rare creatures in our society, probably because we crush the creativity out of them in their day-to-day schoolwork. I get to work with a lot of fresh minds through Noble Impact, though, and we teach them that anyone can contribute to society or solve a problem, as long as they’re willing to put in the work and research.

I’ve had particular glee watching one entrepreneur, Sydney Brazil, flourish in our entrepreneurial environment. She used Lean Canvas to turn her idea for a donut hole business into a reality by founding The Hole Thing, Little Rock, Arkansas’s first “donut holery.” She makes the most delicious donut holes to ever grace the earth, from lemon lavender to chocolate chip cookie.

She started her journey much like any other entrepreneur twice her age (she was 15 when she got started) – she built a business plan, pitched at some local startup pitch competitions, caught the eye of potential partners, and launched a minimum viable product. Instead of buying a store location and setting up shop, Sydney went lean. Her MVP came in the form of a partnership with local restaurant Copper Grill, in which her company’s donut holes appeared on the restaurant’s dessert menu, alongside their house ice cream. Copper Grill also let Sydney use their professional grade kitchen to prepare the holes. The partnership enabled her to test her concept for donut holes, see if there was actually demand, and collect sales data about which donut holes were selling better. Build, measure, learn.

In Sydney’s words, the “grown up business community” has completely embraced her, Copper Grill and beyond. That’s what excites me as an education reformer. We need more connectivity between students and their communities, because business leaders and mentors are the ones who open up opportunities for students to learn and get experience. When a student has an idea for an MVP through a Lean Canvas exercise, it is local community that can help make that plan a reality.

Lean Startup Around the Country

Hawken School Entrepreneurship Educators Workshop

Entrepreneur and educator Jeanine Esposito presents a Business Model Canvas
at Hawken School’s summer entrepreneurship educators workshop.

Noble Impact isn’t the only organization teaching Lean Startup in the K-12 education system.

DECA, one of the largest co-curricular student club organizations, rolled out the Lean Canvas this school year for all of its state and national competitions related to entrepreneurship. Students used to write full 20+ page business plans, and now they’re going lean.

Likewise, educators at Hawken School, a private PS-12 school in Gates Mills, Ohio, is one of the first organizations I’ve worked with that not only teaches students about Lean Startup, but also trains teachers from across the country how to use and teach Lean Startup in their own schools. This summer, Hawken educators Doris Korda and Tim Desmond held the first-ever Hawken School Educators Workship for Entrepreneurial Studies at Babson College and made sure that each educator left having built at least one Lean Business Model Canvas.

Preparing Students For Their Futures

I strongly believe that it is our duty as world citizens to make sure that our children have the best education possible, so that they are prepared to thrive in an ever-changing society after they leave the halls of their hometown high schools.

From what I’ve witnessed, there are educators all across this country, focused on changing the education system, so that our students are prepared to not only thrive in, but also change the world.

Lean Startup, for many students, is the catalyst that gets them engaged and on that path. I encourage all educators to give it a try and to consider what it means when we ask students to take the reigns of their own educational journey. To build, to measure, to learn, and to rise to their fullest potential.

Stories: The Power Of Sharing And Listening

Stories: The Power Of Sharing And Listening

Stories are everywhere, and everyone has one. When was the last time that you read someone a story, told a story, or shared your story? All the time, right? Stories make life fun. They make life interesting.

Before Fall Break, I had the opportunity to listen to some of our 5th graders in Noble Impact tell their stories to their classmates. They shared their values, their passions, and a story – something important to them – and they are even blogging about it! After seeing their blogs, I had no excuse not to get mine up and running. Thanks for that motivation, 5th graders!

Jessi Forster Reads a Story
Jessi Forster reads a story at eStem Public Charter School.
This is something I love about education today, especially here at eStem. We are equipping these 10 year olds with something that is intangible – it goes beyond a lesson, test, or paper. It’s the ability to have a story and share it with others.

But that’s not the only value in sharing stories – what about those students and teachers listening? They are making personal connections with these students’ stories, they are getting to know each other. Today, it just may be more important to be a listener. Can you think of the people you know who are good listeners…the ones who truly hear what you are saying? I know you can probably think of several names of those who don’t! When I know someone hears me, I know they care about me and what I have to say. This is what I want our children to learn, not only how to tell their story, but also how to listen to others.

​I wish I had learned that when I was 10.

This post originally appeared on Jessi Forster’s blog, Mrs. Jess Forster, where she writes about her work as an educator and K-8 director.