How ed ventures succeed

Many for-profit education entrepreneurs have crashed and burned, writes Julie Landry Petersen in Education Next. She looks at three innovators who’ve had an impact and stayed in business: Larry Berger (Wireless Generation), Jonathan Harber (SchoolNet) and Ron Packard (K12).

“The economics of education investing are changing,” writes Petersen. Ed tech companies raised $1.1 billion in venture funding in 2012, more than double the amount raised the prior year.

 

Officials close 11-year-old’s cupcake business

An 11-year-old Illinois girl who started a cake and cupcake business was shut down by county health officials, when they read about her in the local newspaper.

Local Government Forces 11 Year Old Cupcake Entrepreneur to Shut Down BusinessChloe Stirling, a sixth grader, began selling — and sometimes donating — baked goods two years ago. She called her business “Hey, Cupcake!” But she doesn’t have a permit or a commercial kitchen.

“Cottage” food producers were legalized last year in California, reports the Bay Area News Group. Food prepared in home kitchens can be sold, though “local controls have created a crazy quilt of rules and fees, resulting in rules that work for some but erect hurdles for others.”

About 1,000 new microbusinesses have been created. In San Jose, Rula Sai mixes imported black tea, dried apricots and sunflower petals to create an aromatic Armenian Plum Tea. She can sell at the monthly Bay Area Homemade Market in Berkeley, but can’t sell online or at farmers markets in San Jose. “She hosts tea parties, but the city only allows two in-home clients at a time.”

 

PISA denial

U.S. educators are downplaying PISA results that show Asian countries excel, while the U.S. rank is slipping, writes Marc Tucker in PISA Denial. After all, few Asians are winning Nobel prizes or “starting game-changing business like Apple, Oracle, Google or Microsoft,” they argue. Maybe PISA measures things that aren’t very important, while U.S. schools are teaching creativity and innovation.

That’s sophistry, responds Tucker.  Those game-changing entrepreneurs are highly educated and innovative and creative. Their companies don’t hire creative people with mediocre reading, writing and math skills.

 They do not have to choose between well-educated and highly competent people, on the one hand, and creative and innovative people on the other. They demand and can get both. In the same person.

PISA measures “the ability to apply what is learned to real world problems” and increasingly is focusing on applying knowledge to “unanticipated, novel problems,” writes Tucker.

Creativity does not take place in a knowledge vacuum. It is typically the product of the rubbing together, so to speak, of two or more bodies of knowledge, of holding up the framework associated with one body of knowledge to another arena that it was not designed to illuminate. When that happens, odds are that the new insights, born of the application of the old framework to the novel problem, will emerge. The literature tells us that this means that you are most likely to get the kind of creativity we are most interested in from highly educated people who are deeply versed in very different arenas.

Asian educators are working hard to learn from U.S. schools, writes Tucker. They want to place more stress on individual initiative without accepting the “violence and chaos” they see as the cultural price. Some Americans want Asian achievement levels with less social conformity, but we’re not really trying to get there. Instead, “we are working hard at denial.”

PISA matters, agrees Eric Hanushek, who disposes of several excuses for U.S. mediocrity.

 While our low ranking has been seen on earlier international assessments, there are many reasons to believe that low cognitive skills (as assessed by PISA) will be increasingly important for our economic future.

We don’t have to be Singapore or Korea. If the U.S. could reach Canadian achievement levels, the average worker would earn 20 percent more, Hanushek writes.

BTW, Silicon Valley, where I live, is filled with entrepreneurs educated in India, China and elsewhere.  Forty-four percent of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs in 2012, down from 52 percent in 2005.

Underdog power: Dyslexic entrepreneurs

A weakness can be a hidden strength, author Malcolm Gladwell tells Anderson Cooper.

Underdogs’ limitations force them to be creative, says Gladwell, whose new book is called David and Goliath.

One of his examples is Gary Cohn, a dyslexic who “couldn’t do school” and was “kicked out” for acting up. He learned to work around his disability. He’s still a poor reader. He’s also president of Goldman Sachs.

Malcolm Gladwell: An incredibly high percentage of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. That’s one of the little-known facts. So many of them, in fact, it’s like a joke among dyslexic researchers that you go into a room of very successful businesspeople, and you—you have a show of hands on who has a learning disability, it’s like half the hands in the room go up. It’s fascinating…

Gary Cohn: People that can’t read well, we tend to build a great sense of listening. We also tend to build a great sense of being able to deal and cope with failure.

Gladwell grew up in rural Ontario, the son of a Jamaican-born family therapist and a British math professor. He was not a strong student, but since his family had no TV and never went to movies, he read lots of books. If he got bored, his mother would say, “It’s important to be bored. You’re giving your brain a rest.”

Rule breakers succeed as entrepreneurs

Smart, rule-breaking teenagers are more likely to become successful entrepreneurs than smart “good kids,” according to new research, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Ross Levine and Yona Rubinstein . . . find that self-employed workers with incorporated businesses were almost three times more likely to engage in illicit and risky activities as youth than were salaried workers. These behaviors include but aren’t limited to shoplifting, marijuana use, playing hooky at school, drug dealing and assault.

In addition, the self-employed with incorporated businesses were more educated, more likely to come from high-earning, two-parent families, were more apt to score higher on learning aptitude tests and exhibit greater self-esteem than other employment types. “Of course, you have to be smart,” says Mr. Levine. “But it’s a unique combination of breaking rules and being smart that helps you become an entrepreneur.”

Risk-takers with high self-esteem also can get in trouble.  Many financial advisers say they “have to keep their entrepreneur clients in check,” according to the Journal.

Test-crazy China seeks innovators

China’s education system turns out students who are great at memorizing but not at thinking, writes Helen Gao, who moved from China to the U.S. for her senior year of high school.

In 2010, an international standardized test found that junior high school students in Shanghai had outperformed their peers in rest of the world in math, science, and reading, beating the U.S. averages by a wide margin. . . . (The) nine-year compulsory education system, installed in 1986, has boosted the country’s literacy rate to around 92 percent (it was 67 percent as of 1980) and prepared millions of eligible young people for the rapidly expanding workforce. Now, however, as the economy shows signs of cooling, Chinese leaders are trying to engender more domestic innovation.

They hope to see an educated workforce, rather than toiling on factory floors or sitting in the cubicles of Western companies’ Chinese branches, found their own businesses or brands that will sell to domestic as well as international buyers. They want domestic moviegoers to stop purchasing bootleg DVDs of Western blockbusters, and for foreign viewers to start raving about Chinese films. But the nation’s education system, instead of channeling the youthful energy of China’s next generation, seems to be blocking it.

The gao kao, the college admissions test, determines students’ futures. It’s all multiple choice, Gao writes.
Chinese students spend years cramming for the big test, reports the New York Times.

. . .  new research by the workplace manager Regus shows that Chinese employers are now favoring graduates with internship experience, winning personalities and foreign language skills. Just 9 percent of employers, especially at large companies, now put educational background as the top priority in hiring.

That probably means acing the gao kao, getting into a prestigious university and offering experience, personality and language skills.

Give us your energetic, your geniuses …

To heck with the tired, poor and huddled. Give Us Your Geniuses, write Adam Ozimek and Noah Smith in The Atlantic. From the earliest days, the U.S. has enjoyed “the ability to attract and retain a huge number of the world’s best and brightest,” they write. We drew smart Scots, “the intellectual and technological elite of the British Empire.” In early 1900s and he Nazi era, a “windfall” of Jewish immigrants yielded scientists and entrepreneurs.

In the late 20th Century, a wave of immigration from Taiwan did the same, giving us (for example) the man who revolutionized AIDS treatment (David Ho), as well as the founders of YouTube, Zappos, Yahoo, and Nvidia. In fact, immigrants or the children of immigrants have founded or co-founded nearly every legendary American technology company, including Google, Intel, Facebook, and of course Apple (you knew that Steve Jobs’ father was named Abdulfattah Jandali, right?).

Taking many more high-skilled immigrants is a no-brainer, they argue.

High-skilled immigrants are not just good at their jobs. They create jobs. . . More than half of the start-ups in Silicon Valley, for instance, were started by immigrants, along with 25% of venture-backed companies that went public between 1990 and 2006.

In addition, high-skilled immigrants are innovators as well. Economists Jennifer Hunt and Marjolaine Gauthier-Loiselle find that a 1% increase in the share of immigrant college graduates in the population increases patents per capita by as much as 9-18%, after accounting for the “positive spillovers” by which HSI boost innovation by native-born inventors.

Living in Silicon Valley, I know many high-tech entrepreneurs from the three I’s, Israel, Ireland and India. These are very smart people with very smart children. My husband, who’s helped start several Silicon Valley companies, has worked with many Indians, quite a few Italians, Chinese, of course, and, well, you name it.

Stanford: Too worldly? Too useful?

Is Stanford Too Close to Silicon Valley? asks Ken Auletta in the New Yorker.

The campus has its jocks, stoners, and poets, but what it is famous for are budding entrepreneurs, engineers, and computer aces hoping to make their fortune in one crevasse or another of Silicon Valley.

Innovation comes from myriad sources, including the bastions of East Coast learning, but Stanford has established itself as the intellectual nexus of the information economy.

A former engineering professor, Stanford President John Hennessy also was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and serves on many corporate boards.

Stanford’s entrepreneurial culture has created a “gold-rush mentality,” writes Auletta. Both faculty and students seek “invention and fortune.”  A quarter of undergrads and a majority of graduate students are engineering majors, roughly six times the percentage at Harvard and Yale.

Some ask whether Stanford has struck the right balance between commerce and learning, between the acquisition of skills to make it and intellectual discovery for its own sake.

David Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has taught at Stanford for more than forty years, credits the university with helping needy students and spawning talent in engineering and business, but he worries that many students uncritically incorporate the excesses of Silicon Valley, and that there are not nearly enough students devoted to the liberal arts and to the idea of pure learning. “The entire Bay Area is enamored with these notions of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, mega-success,” he says. “It’s in the air we breathe out here. It’s an atmosphere that can be toxic to the mission of the university as a place of refuge, contemplation, and investigation for its own sake.”

Gerhard Casper, the former president and now a senior fellow, thinks top research universities have become too focused on solving real-world problems rather than “the disinterested pursuit of truth.” He fears “ever greater emphasis on direct usefulness,” which might mean “even less funding of and attention to the arts and humanities.”

I don’t spend much time worrying about a university’s enthusiasm for innovation, creativity and solving real-world problems. Perhaps my husband — a former engineering prof, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a friend of Hennessy — has influenced me. On the other hand, I once took a class from David Kennedy and my daughter spent a summer as his research assistant. And I was a liberal arts major. I learned that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” according to Shelley, but I never believed it.

 

 

Dropouts are job creators

The U.S. education system trains students to follow the rules and collect degrees, writes Michael Ellsberg in a New York Times op-ed. Dropouts are the job creators who can save America, he argues.

I typed these words on a computer designed by Apple, co-founded by the college dropout Steve Jobs. The program I used to write it was created by Microsoft, started by the college dropouts Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

And as soon as it is published, I will share it with my friends via Twitter, co-founded by the college dropouts Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams and Biz Stone, and Facebook — invented, among others, by the college dropouts Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, and nurtured by the degreeless Sean Parker.

American academia is good at producing writers, literary critics and historians. It is also good at producing professionals with degrees. But we don’t have a shortage of lawyers and professors. America has a shortage of job creators. And the people who create jobs aren’t traditional professionals, but start-up entrepreneurs.

From kindergarten through undergraduate and grad school, students learn few entrepreneurial skills or attitudes, Ellsberg writes. Students don’t learn about sales, unless they take a class on why sales and capitalism are evil. They don’t learn to network with others. Creativity is stifled. Worst of all, they don’t learn how failure can lead to success.

Our education system encourages students to play it safe and retreat at the first sign of failure (assuming that any failure will look bad on their college applications and résumés).

While some jobs require a college degree, many people find jobs in the informal market, where who you know and what you’ve done matter more than paper credentials, he writes.

Parents could refuse to pay for useless degrees, but most are “caught up in outmoded mentalities about education forged in the stable economy of the 1950s (but profoundly misguided in today’s chaotic, entrepreneurial economy).”

Employers could overturn the system “if they explicitly offered routes to employment for those who didn’t get a degree because they were out building businesses.”

OK, for the exceptionally talented and self-educated few.  But most college dropouts aren’t Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  And some people do learn useful things in college.

 

Basic skills, job training are team effort

Low-skilled adults will learn basic reading, writing and math in conjunction with job training in a program designed by the Dallas Urban League and El Centro Community College.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  A community college sophomore, 18-year-old Daniel Brusilovsky runs a website for teen entrepreneurs to connect, an annual conference and a six-week summer incubator that matches young entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley funders.