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How can teacher leaders leverage an entrepreneurial mindset to solve problems?
The history of Hamilton County, Tennessee represents the power of a community to come together and affect systemic change. Once a thriving trade and steel hub nestled along the Tennessee River in the foothills of southeastern Tennessee, the region has experienced a resurgence over the past three decades as community leaders pivoted to embrace eco-tourism, attract global manufacturers, and nurture a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. This resurgence was also felt in the education system. The Hamilton County region has embraced the idea of practitioner-led innovation, and Teacherpreneur shines as an example of what's possible when teachers are elevated in the community and empowered to lead from their unique experiences and perspectives. Today, Hamilton County Schools is recognized as the home of the largest educational Fab Lab (advanced makerspace) network in the world, and this work is largely led by teachers who have developed and leveraged an entrepreneurial spirit to bring unique learning opportunities to students and their families.
Teacherpreneur is led by the Public Education Foundation in partnership with Hamilton County Schools and the Benwood Foundation. The Public Education Foundation is a non-profit organization that, for more than 30 years, has provided training, research, and resources to teachers, principals, and schools in Hamilton County and surrounding areas. We are innovators, working with a wide range of partners to increase student achievement so all students succeed in learning and in life.
With a focus on providing equitable opportunities for students, Teacherpreneur offers teachers in Hamilton County Schools the support, time, and space to launch ideas that can impact their classroom, school, or community. Teacherpreneur brings teachers, entrepreneurial experts, and community leaders together to launch transformative ideas, growing them into scalable, sustainable solutions. Since launching Teacherpreneur in 2014, the Public Education Foundation has provided wraparound support for more than 175 teachers who have successfully launched 114 initiatives.
To bring these innovative ideas from concept to scale, Teacherpreneur was designed to support teachers as they cultivate an entrepreneurial approach to problem solving. After a competitive selection process, a cohort of Teacherpreneurs (usually 20 to 30 teachers) engage in a six-week start-up incubator planning session designed specifically for teachers. The planning phase concludes with an intensive planning weekend capped by the annual Teacherpreneur Pitch Night, where the teachers make two-minute pitches to a panel of expert judges and an audience of 300+ community members, business leaders, and educators. Pitch Night awards cash prizes to the top three pitches as reward money directly to the winners. Following Pitch Night, the Teacherpreneur steering committee allocates seed money ranging from $3,000 to $10,000 (from grant funding provided by the Benwood Foundation) for each project based on the idea’s potential for impact and the team’s demonstrated capacity to achieve their goals. The teams then spend the next 24 months working with PEF and community mentors to bring their venture to fruition. PEF provides fiscal management, professional support, and consulting services for up to three years for each venture.
Rather than encouraging teachers to launch businesses, Teacherpreneur is designed to empower teachers to leverage an entrepreneurial mindset to address challenges they see from their valuable perspective. In 2019, Teacherpreneur branched into a second lane. Today, Teacherpreneur Incubator provides the services described above, and Teacherpreneur Accelerator supports former Teacherpreneurs to bring their successful initiatives to scale across the region.
Examples and highlights:
The first six cohorts of Teacherpreneur experienced significant success across a wide range of teacher-informed solutions. For example:
- Two elementary teachers realized their students’ caregivers needed assistance providing academic support at home, so they retrofitted a school bus to create The Passage, a mobile classroom the Teacherpreneurs use to bring support directly to students and their families.
- A middle school teacher partnered with a high school guidance counselor and an elementary school STEAM lab teacher to launch Gig City Girls — a girls-only coding club that provides coding kits, guided activities, and structure for teachers to launch girls' coding clubs in K-12 schools. Within the first two-years of their launch, Gig City Girls supported the successful launch of 20 clubs serving more than 2,500 students!
- A high school math teacher worked through Teacherpreneur to launch Tiny House:Big Impact, a unique mathematics course for high school students that weaves algebra and geometry standards into a semester-long build of a complete, portable Tiny House.