Earlier this summer, Governor Mike Pence proposed a $1 billion investment in Indiana innovation and entrepreneurship. Outlined in his proposal were six main areas of focus for the investment to go towards, as outlined in last week’s post and further elaborated on by the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) here. This week, we will be dissecting the first area of focus on the list, and giving our recommendation for what we believe would be most beneficial to future entrepreneurs. As stated by the IEDC, this includes:
“Developing Indiana’s future innovators and entrepreneurs through partnerships with secondary school programs designed to encourage interest in, teach the economics of, and outline the opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Already a player in this landscape is Junior Achievement, a k-12 program that aims to foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy skills. Nationally, the program has 112 area offices. Within Indiana, the program has four divisions: Northern Indiana, Central Indiana, Southwestern Indiana (including counties in IL), and Kentuckiana (including counties in KY). With further backing, these programs could be expanded to reach all areas of the state, using Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana as a model. With 130,000 students and 5,900 volunteers, the program reached 43% exposure to all region k-12 students in 2010 – the #1 in the nation.
Another non-profit organization that helps promote entrepreneurship early in youths is Lemonade Day, which looks to empower kids at a very early age to become entrepreneurs in the simplest way by having a lemonade stand. Lemonade Day is ran regionally and includes committees, such as the Seed Fund committee that judge video proposals made by the participants who are seeking an investment in their Lemonade stand. In the videos participants must outline their business plan, their budget, and how the funds will be used.
Additionally, private companies are partnering with community organizations, such as public schools, public development corporations, and community career centers to support STEM education. Take, for instance, Endress+Hauser, who awarded $30,000 to three neighborhood schools to help fund STEM education programs. Similarly, they have partnered with other private companies and Central Nine Career Center to annually host a Community Career+Education Forum (CCEF) for students and local educators to be engaged by local businesses to raise awareness and provide information about careers and opportunities that exist in advanced manufacturing and the importance of STEM related programs.
One local educator that can be highlighted as someone who is both progressing and driving the entrepreneurial and innovation culture is Don Wettrick. Don is an educator at Noblesville High School and author of the book Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level. Don has lectured throughout the U.S. about collaboration and establishing a work environment that helps enable innovation. Don has found an innovative way to change the traditional entrepreneurial paradigm and expose it to students earlier in their lives. In today’s culture, no longer does someone need to have a high school diploma or college degree to come up with an idea that can be monetized.
With the additional funding provided by the State’s investment, we think there are some valuable opportunities to be created or to be expanded upon with some of the current programs being implemented throughout the state. Below are 3 recommendations from Gutwein Law on how these funds would be best used:
- Private Scholarships
Should the State set aside a scholarship or match funds for students going into the STEM field? As mentioned, private companies already issue scholarships to students that will be attending college and plan to pursue a STEM related major. The Lilly endowment is probably one of the best examples of this. While the Lilly endowment does cover full tuition expenses, it does not cover room and board. Full-ride scholarships are few and far between; perhaps, this is an opportunity for the State to match scholarships awarded by private companies up to a certain amount. Ideally, this match would be contingent upon the student attending an in-state university to help retain the best talent.
- State-run Sponsorships and Grants
Is there a way for the State to come along side of what is already happening in some high schools, and either expand or create programs for both STEM and vocational training? The answer here is yes, and the Indiana Commission for High Education has turned its attention to STEM training and grants to recruit and prepare educators in STEM. These grants have been given to numerous organizations and programs. A list of the 2016 grant recipients can be found here. This grant program should be continually expanded upon and broadcasted to those organizations in a position to facilitate the training. As mentioned above, Don Wettrick’s program would be an ideal grant recipient of such funding to further promote entrepreneurial and innovative thinking to school systems throughout the state.
- Non-profits partnerships
The State can further drive entrepreneurial and innovation in youths through non-profit leaders who are driving the entrepreneurial acumen to students from K-12. Partnering with the various Junior Achievement divisions or other non-profits, such as Lemonade Day, can help to start instilling a business acumen in students at a younger age. One possibility is to sponsor or host a state-wide entrepreneurial competition or pitch competition targeted to middle school to high school students.
Put to use the right way, an investment of this size has the potential to make a great impact on Indiana innovation. It is imperative to focus on higher education and expose students earlier in their education to the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem. Stay tuned over the next couple of months for more recommendations from our attorneys on how these funds should be used.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – tyler droste
Tyler Droste is an attorney at Gutwein Law. Prior to receiving his JD from Indiana University, Tyler earned both his Bachelors and Masters in Biotechnology from Indiana University-Bloomington. He focuses primarily on patent law.