IMSA Kids at MIT Enterprise Forum
From a special correspondent – Mark T. Wayne,
as told to John Jonelis
Frankly sir, I am flabbergasted! This is something beyond my experience! Think of it. High school students turned serious entrepreneurs. These are children in suit and tie—teams of them politely waiting to speak in turn without interrupting the others. Not so much as a spit wad—do you hear me? Not one! That in itself is cause for more than casual interest. And no fluff here, sir! These kids seek equity funding without so much as a blush. And they do it with such aplomb.
One by one they each give a compelling presentation before a swarm of serious investors and businessmen. Each offers a new venture—a real venture with a plausible business plan. Yes, I witnessed it myself. Something astounding is taking place among those students and I want to put my finger on just what it is.
Let’s look at one example. Jason Lin is on stage to confront the audience at the MIT Enterprise Forum, Chicago—
This is a crowd of competitive peers, cynical investors, critical business people, and a panel of jaded judges. Young Jason stands before this daunting mob, tricked out in his tailored suit, relaxed, poised, and glib. He calmly and professionally convinces us that his company is number one. His is not a pipe dream. NO – IT’S A FULLY OPERATING BUSINESS, SIR! And remember, this is high school.
I talked to Kendrick Lau from his team while waiting for the judge’s decision. We traded letters after that. Every encounter tells me of sincerity, intelligence, and good breeding.
Does this surprise you? Everyone knows that our public schools are the laughing stock of the world. Today, a faithful teacher invests all her hopes and struggles to graduate just a few students that can read, write, and comprehend the rudiments of the English language.
And this has been the way of it for at least 150 years. Take the well-known example of a boy named Tom who I know from my own youth. Not a model student but not unusual, either. He hates school with his whole heart. In class he starts a quarrel with the first boy that comes handy. Then he pulls a boy’s hair in the next bench. Next he sticks a pin in another boy, in order to hear him say “Ouch!”
And Tom is not unique. No sir! His whole class is of a pattern—restless, noisy, and troublesome. Fidgetings and whisperings extend far and wide. Soon the classroom air is thick with paper wads.
Can you conceive of building a serious business venture in such chaos?
IMSA – the Illinois Math and Science Academy has teamed with other high schools in the region. As a result, these children might very well be the best-of-the-best. But can that explain this wonderful performance? Rubbage! That does not answer. Kids are kids wherever you go. There must be some fundamental law at work.
As I cogitate on that a while, I actually come up with two fundamental laws:
- Law #1—Misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. It does not matter if the enterprise is puckering the lips and successfully whistling for the first time or a more complex pursuit such as playing a tuba or starting a business. When the thing is achieved, exultation takes over.
- Law #2—Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do. Play consists of whatever a body is NOT OBLIGED to do. Entrepreneurship—at the fundamental level—is pure play. Folks will work harder at play than at any other activity under the sun.
I recall these same two laws driving a boy to engage in private enterprise about 150 years ago. Everybody here is familiar with Tom’s brush with whitewashing his Aunt Polly’s fence. The story has been around long enough to suggest universality.
For a boy, painting a fence is a daunting task and one sure to bring the scorn of other boys who are setting off on interesting Saturday expeditions. Permit me to dwell for a few moments upon the manner in which Tom turns a hated task into a profitable venture.
With his bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush, he surveys the fence in genuine anguish. A quick accounting of the resources in his pockets makes it clear that he cannot hire boys to do the work—he must find other means. So he brushes on the whitewash and stands back critically, then dabs at the fence and again surveys his work. When his friend Ben comes by, Tom convinces him he’s having the time of his life (Law #2). After eager negotiation, Ben gives up a juicy apple for the honor of painting that fence and he sets to it with enthusiasm (Law #1).
Boys happen along to jeer but remain to whitewash. Tom trades the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite in good repair.
Then Johnny Miller buys in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with. When the middle of the afternoon comes, Tom is literally rolling in wealth. He has twelve marbles, a piece of blue bottle glass, a spool cannon, a key that won’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, the glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar, the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.
His enterprising spirit does not stop there. The next day at Sunday School, he trades these treasures for yellow and blue tickets earned by diligent students that meticulously memorized Scripture. He turns in those tickets in one big pile and wins the honor of the faculty and a girl’s heart – at least until he is questioned more closely. It seems the most boastful are the first to get found out. We will draw the curtain on that scene.
So what have these young folk at MITEF to offer? Here are the winners:
- WikiRoster – Jason Lin, Jung Oh and Kendrick Lau operate a website that answers the question, “Who is in my class?” This is the first question a student asks. It’s already changing the way high schools interact and the way marketers do business. It facilitates collaboration on homework, notes, tutoring, sale of textbooks. There is almost no competition in the high school market. And it’s a going venture!
- Bend – Ethan Gordon has developed a way to generate electricity from undersea currents. This is in the far depths and does not interfere with commerce or recreation. And it’s clean!
- Tunesketch – David Park offers software that lets you write beautiful music by the simple act of making a rough sketch. I can think of many folks who will buy that!
And these are high school age children! All of them give us a peek at their business plans and answer the important questions: Why will folks buy it? How does the company make money? How does the investor make money? In my imagination, Tom and Billy Fisher and Johnny Miller and all the other fence painters want to buy in. And well they should. I do too!
Allow me to bestow credit to Jim Gerry of IMSA and Moises Goldman of MITEF for bringing inspiration to us in in the midst of all the chaos we call education. Tonight we have seen it as it never appeared in our fondest dreams.
Moises Goldman PhD – MITEF – M&J Acquisitions – Moises6@comcast.net
Jim Gerry – Innovation and Entrepreneurship Director at IMSA – firstname.lastname@example.org
IMSA – Illinois Math and Science Academy – www.imsa.edu
MITEF Chicago – www.mitefchicago.org
WikiRoster – WikiRoster.com
tunesketch – tunesketch.com
Photographs courtesy IMSA Student Productions www.imsastudentproductions.com/view.php?id=128
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.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved