The Innovation Incubator Program at Innovation Montessori High School

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By Alison Franks

Traditionally, people define entrepreneurship as starting a new business or diving into a new endeavor focused on generating profit.  At Innovation Montessori High School we are pushing the boundaries of that definition to include a broader scope of the human experience.  Visual artists can be entrepreneurs, launching their own personal brands. Entrepreneurs can be focused on creating change in their worlds by starting a non-profit or launching a social justice focused initiative.  Launching yourself into adulthood is an entrepreneurial endeavor in and of itself.

As part of the Innovation Incubator program this year, our students learned critical thinking, problem solving and executive functioning skills that support an entrepreneurial mindset. Our curriculum is designed to teach these skills through experiential learning opportunities as well as a series of projects both large and small.  On Wednesdays, our students participate in Innovation Incubator Seminars and Executive Skills labs designed to offer students a deep dive with multiple perspectives on a topic or skillset. Examples of Executive Skills Lab topics include: collaboration, strategic thinking, project planning, and time management and organization.  These larger seminar experiences are woven through our day to day projects and experiential learning.

During the first semester of the Innovation Incubator program at Innovation Montessori High School students focused on building their creativity, and honing their problem-solving skills. Projects challenged students to identify problems both at the global and local levels, and then to develop innovative solutions that might be applied to these problems. At the end of the first semester, our students participated in a challenge called the World Series of Innovation where they worked in small groups to design solutions to problems connected to UN Sustainability Goals.  Some teams identified approaches to improve access to the internet in developing countries, others responded to the need to increase the use of sustainable materials (in lieu of plastic packaging).

This past semester as part of the Innovation Incubator, students participated in a program designed by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) called Start Up Tech where they learned to design and build Apps that solve unique problems.  Each of our students started the ideation process by brainstorming a list of problems in their worlds (school, home, friends), and then brainstorming potential solutions to those problems.  Groups were formed based on ideas that students found interesting, and then things got exciting!

Over the course of the semester students learned how to turn their ideas into functioning Apps using block code and the MIT App Inventor platform, completed market research, identified target audiences and their team’s competitive advantage, and finally designed promotional materials and an elevator pitch to support their ideas and Apps. The experience culminated with our students demonstrating their Apps, presenting these ideas, and “pitching” a group of judges during the Start Up Tech Showcase.

Through this process students learned not only how to take an idea from inception and design a minimum viable product version of the idea in the form of a functioning app. They also learned about their leadership styles, how they work under pressure, and how to persevere when challenges arise (which they did).

In the coming years as we grow the Innovation Incubator program at Innovation Montessori High School, our students will be building on the skills they’ve learned in 9th grade to identify ideas for businesses or projects they feel passionate about. We will continue to focus on deepening critical thinking skills while encouraging every student to get creative in solving problems both big and small. Along the way, our students will establish relationships with professionals in fields they’re interested in and participate in internship programs.

I am inspired by the potential of young people, and our students in particular. As we plan for coming years, I look forward to offering our students the academic and experiential support to develop the skills they need to feel productive and engaged in life within and beyond school.