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7 Tips to Build Entrepreneurial Ecosystems at Your School to Cultivate Changemakers

Improve Student and Educator Success with a Proven Strategy for Developing Entrepreneurial Mindsets 

Written by: Dr. Beth Goldstein, Senior Director, Academic Strategy, Youth Impact Lab at Babson College

Babson College | Babson Academy Youth Impact Lab

At the Youth Impact Lab at Babson College, we help youth and K-12 teachers, youth development professionals, and school leaders build entrepreneurial mindsets and ecosystems. We teach the skills you need to create economic and social value—empowering students and your entire team to solve real problems in their lives and communities while advancing the UN Global Goals.

What’s an Entrepreneurial Mindset? 

To lead effectively in a world in constant flux, everyone needs to build and nurture an ability

to think like an entrepreneur. This way of thinking goes far beyond venture creation and beyond the classroom. It allows you to act in the face of uncertainty, developing and facilitating opportunities as you go. Being able to approach problems in an entrepreneurial way is powerful for you individually, empowering for your students, and critical for the success of your school and community.


Why Does It Matter?

For Students: Developing Resilience and Adaptability

We live in a world that is constantly changing—and change is hard. To be successful in school, life, and their future career, our youth need the skills and confidence to adapt to change. These abilities are even more important when considering the effect of COVID-19 on a generation whose educational opportunities were disrupted; after all, 94% of youth were out of school during some part of the pandemic Four years later, we are still experiencing the aftermath of the global pandemic, including:

  • Increased global learning poverty, with 70% of 10-year-olds unable to understand a simple written text; this was 57% pre-pandemic

  • Surging mental health issues, with 87% of Gen Z youth describing regular mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, and depression

  • Continued drops in average math and reading scores, with a widening score gap for socio-economically disadvantaged students

  • Decreased resiliency levels, with 70% of youth rating their ability to cope with challenges as medium to very low in the U.S., and corresponding decreases in resiliency levels amongst youth around the world

Money Alone Cannot Address This Crisis

“For many OECD countries that spend more per student, there is no relationship between extra investment and student performance.” Throwing money at this problem will not solve it. We applaud this as very good news. Why? There is always going to be a scarcity of financial resources. Yet, human capital, in the form of educators, is within the reach of school leaders, teachers, and youth development professionals worldwide.

How does an entrepreneurial mindset help? 

Research conducted by Unicef underscores that the social-emotional skills students develop while building an entrepreneurial mindset may have a positive impact on their academic achievement, resilience, and future success, while also contributing to improvements in mental health.

At the Youth Impact Lab, we’ve designed a program called EPIC: Entrepreneurship Program for Innovators & Changemakers. The EPIC curriculum allows students to understand business concepts like opportunity identification, idea generation, prototyping, and marketing, while concurrently introducing them to social entrepreneurship and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are proud of the student outcomes from our work with high school students from all over the world. They self-reported statistically significant ​​increases in their Entrepreneurial Self-Efficacy (ESE), critical thinking, and social awareness. In addition, we have seen overall increases in students’ grit, learning self-efficacy, and growth mindset. Below we share what this means in terms of positive change.

EPIC Student Outcomes

  • 94% stated that EPIC taught them valuable life skills (not just how to start a business)

  • 93% believe they can help solve societal problems

  • 89% stated that participating in the EPIC program gave them useful preparation for their future

  • 83% stated that EPIC increased their ability to be successful in school (beyond their business or entrepreneurship courses)

The impact of this type of learning will cascade throughout a student’s life, improving their short-term and long-term success.

For Schools and Educators: Building Healthy Entrepreneurship Ecosystems

Schools with thriving entrepreneurship ecosystems empower everyone at their school, including students, staff, teachers, and school leaders, to use entrepreneurial thinking in all situations. As these stakeholders increase their agency to approach problems and opportunities with a new lens, they: 

  • Become more resilient

  • Persist longer through challenges

  • Act on innovative ideas

  • Find opportunities to sticky problems

This is powerful for your entire school community.

The Lincoln School in Costa Rica is a great example of how a K-12 school has inspired its faculty, staff, and students to become changemakers. It fosters social impact through entrepreneurial thinking. In 2018, they began working with Babson’s Youth Impact Lab to help their students and teachers become more resilient by improving their entrepreneurial skills. This is the origin of the EPIC curriculum, which is now mandatory for all ninth-grade Lincoln School students, and is offered as a summer program. In addition, they are committed to training every employee at their school how to use Babson’s approach to entrepreneurial problem-solving in their teaching practice and everyday lives.

EPIC Certificate Program for K-12 Educators—Outcomes

The Youth Impact Lab partners with educators, schools, communities, educational systems, nonprofit organizations, and other critical stakeholders to teach them how to effectively deliver our youth entrepreneurial changemaker program, EPIC. We train and certify educators to deliver the EPIC curriculum by requiring them to experience and complete the program in the same manner that their students will. Using this pedagogy, we have seen very positive changes in their skills, including statistically significant increases in participants’:

  • Entrepreneurial self-efficacy  

  • Entrepreneurial identity

  • Teacher self-efficacy in the entrepreneurship domain

  • General self-efficacy 

For Society: Supporting Changemakers Motivated to Address the UN’s SDGs

To help our youth build a more equitable world, equal access to quality education is key, as outlined by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals). The world needs more entrepreneurial leaders who see obstacles as opportunities, are strong and collaborative communicators, and have the agency to be changemakers. 

7 Tips to Creating Powerful Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

To support you and your school in this work, we designed a playbook with seven tips to strengthen entrepreneurial thinking and acting at your school.

Tip 1: Incorporate Experiential Learning Throughout Your School

Ensure that youth and educator programs focus on learning by doing—not on lectures. Engagement and action through student-centric learning are critical teaching elements to create genuine behavioral and attitudinal changes.

Example: In addition to teaching content related to market research, ask students to complete an empathy journey where they observe and communicate with their customers. This deepens their understanding of the people experiencing the problem while strengthening their confidence that they have the agency to create a solution.

Tip 2: Create Scaffolded Entrepreneurship Programs

Create scaffolded entrepreneurship content where the lessons learned build upon each other to strengthen real learning. A one-day training in entrepreneurial thinking does not create critical transformations in student learning or educator teaching practices.

Example: Cover topics that teach youth how to be entrepreneurial leaders as they embark on a journey to address a real-world social problem. Each week, you can support their business skills while strengthening their confidence in their agency to act on opportunities and not fear failure.

Tip 3: Integrate Social Justice Concepts Framed by the UN Global Goals

Show students what it means to create economic AND social value by framing business ideas within the UN Global Goals.

Example: It’s important to show students that social injustice is not something that simply happens in “other” places. Integrate and reinforce equity concepts throughout all of your courses, not limiting these to business courses. You can teach math, science, and reading using experiential pedagogical practices. A holistic and comprehensive teaching approach delivered on all topics will demonstrate to your students how they can create sustainable solutions to global problems, starting in their local communities.

Tip 4: Align Entrepreneurship Content with Appropriate Pedagogy

While K-12 teachers have meaningful experience teaching, they might not have the experience nor the confidence required to teach in a student-centric, experiential way, borrowing pedagogical practices from entrepreneurship education. Similarly, youth development professionals may be confident in their entrepreneurial or business skills but unfamiliar with the most appropriate teaching methods and tools to support student learning.

Example: Ensure your programs strengthen social-emotional (power) skills and content knowledge. This combination supports your long-term goal of empowering youth with the tools and mindset to become changemakers. To be successful, youth need to understand entrepreneurship goes beyond building a business and should be seen as a methodology for approaching and solving real-world problems.

Tip 5: Integrate Team-Based Learning Activities

Provide ongoing team-based learning experiences where students can practice their new knowledge and skills. Learning is a social process. It requires numerous exchanges to increase student comfort in sharing diverse concepts and experiences, helping students learn from each other.

Example: Include individual and team projects in entrepreneurship programs. These projects should require experimentation and application. Pushing students out of their comfort zones and allowing them to make mistakes without negative consequences helps them get more comfortable testing new concepts and learning from failure.

Tip 6: Require Deep Reflection to Optimize Learning

Ensure that significant time is dedicated to reflection, both in and outside the classroom. Reflection is a critical aspect of the learning cycle. It allows students to pause and analyze what they have or have not learned, contributing to their confidence, critical thinking skills, and growth mindset. This should be deployed in every classroom to ensure students own their learning.

Example: Require a weekly reflection journal where students can explore and evaluate what they learned each week, noting what surprised them, what sparked their passion, and what they can do to improve themselves and their learning. Check that these are completed, and remember to explain why reflection is a valuable tool in our lifelong learning journeys.

Tip 7: Measure Your Impact

In addition to measuring the output of your programs, such as student satisfaction levels, make sure you measure genuine changes in learning demonstrated by students’ attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs.

Example: The EPIC program focuses on pre- and post-program evaluations that include measures such as students’ entrepreneurial self-efficacy, grit, growth mindset, and critical thinking skills. In our educator certification programs, we measure participants’ teacher self-efficacy (general and in the entrepreneurship domain), grit, and entrepreneurial identity. This helps us understand what is working to create agency and improve skills.

Find Opportunities Where Others See Obstacles 

We’d love to share more learnings around this proven method of developing entrepreneurial youth leaders. Listen to our podcast, Epic Youth: Cultivating Entrepreneurial Changemakers, for on-the-ground insights from educators, administrators, students, and even parents who are leveraging the power of an entrepreneurial mindset. We are excited to keep giving K-12 schools access to the resources of Babson College, no. 1 for entrepreneurship for 30+ consecutive years (U.S. News & World Report).

Beth Goldstein smiling headshot

Babson College | Babson Academy Youth Impact Lab

Empowering educators to lead the next generation of changemakers through entrepreneurship


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