The Science of Innovation — How School can Inspire the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

Founder at Lingo Ventures, Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education

YELLOW is really about helping young people maximize their creative potential, and that creative potential can manifest in many ways. It can manifest itself in art, music, software, mathematics, business systems—anything. Entrepreneurship is just one channel of the creative force.

I first became interested in entrepreneurship—and in teaching and the potential of technology—from my own experiences as a student. When I was a teenager, a local company had a competition to redesign a piece of software, and I entered that competition and won some money. Then, since I was good at math, people started sending their kids to me to tutor. So in high school, I made all of my money tutoring math and writing software. It turned out I liked doing those things and I also liked making my own money. It was both fun and empowering. Since then, education, entrepreneurship and technology have threaded through the rest of my life.

But my experience highlights the importance of opportunity: only kids in the gifted programs had access to that computer that was in the school. If I hadn’t been in that program, I wouldn’t have even been able to look at the computer, wouldn’t have learned to code, and wouldn’t have discovered my passions. In too many places that’s still the case.

When we classify kids as “gifted”, we become really concerned about their interests, we want to feed them whatever they want, we give them access to all kinds of resources. When we classify kids as “remedial,” we take stuff away, and we keep taking stuff away, until we’re drilling them on the dullest, bare-bones things that feel as disconnected from reality and interest as possible. If a kid is struggling, you really need to enrich their environment, not impoverish it—you need to enrich the content, not impoverish it.

If a kid is struggling, you really need to enrich their environment, not impoverish it—you need to enrich the content, not impoverish it.
Greg Gunn — Founder at Lingo Ventures, Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education

I’m an investor in the education space, and people bring me products and services for struggling students all the time. I know that many of them are going to make their money selling to districts that are serving Black and Brown kids. Sometimes I’ll have an entrepreneur bring me a product, and I look at the product, and I ask them, “Would you use this with your child?” And more than half the time, the real answer is “no.” I don’t want our kids to keep having to put up with this. I want them to have the best learning experiences that are available anywhere, all the time.

Entrepreneurship is a great example of an area of learning and thinking that lets young people get out of rote learning and into creative exploration. The experience of doing something entrepreneurial, even at a small scale, is so empowering. Educators can cultivate the entrepreneurial mindset—and cultivate the fun of it—with young people. They can treat interpersonal skills with the seriousness and thoughtfulness that they’re treated with in elite management training programs. They can get students seeing, get students talking, and make every day a conversation about the possibilities.

This entrepreneurial mindset is what it takes to be at the center of value creation, which is where it ties into our bigger picture. When I look at the arc of our history, any people—any race—wants to create. There’s a natural creative force that we all have within us, and it takes a lot to suppress that, to tamp it down, to punish it when it’s expressed and to strip away its economic value when value is created. We as a people have always had to keep reinventing, rediscovering, and remanifesting that creative force for ourselves.

It's about how we increase representation in the creative part of society—the part of society that’s creating the future, not just consuming it. It’s about creation today and it’s about economic empowerment tomorrow and it’s about being part of the advancement of humankind the day after.

I’m always looking for my next generation of entrepreneurs to invest in, and I’m hoping some of them emerge from YELLOW’s experiences five years from now.
Greg Gunn — Founder at Lingo Ventures, Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education

All of this is why YELLOW feels different to me. Nothing in here is about how our kids “catch up.” This is about how our kids become the people that they want to be and can be and how we take that into the future and how we take that into the future with an understanding of what that future really looks like.

YELLOW is important because it’s looking at these issues through all these lenses at the same time with an optimism that comes from the project being led by people who understand who these kids are. This goes somewhat to the race component as well: we have so many people telling us what our kids are and are not capable of and classifying our kids and analyzing our kids differently from how they analyze their own.

YELLOW’s optimism, frankly, comes from Pharrell being a Black creator himself, who has lived this and knows what he wants other kids to have the opportunity to live. That’s why this matters, and that’s why it’s a forward-looking initiative.

Of course I’m excited because I think a lot of kids are going to have a lot of great experiences. Beyond that, a lot of advisors to the team are also obsessed with data and documentation so this work can also become more broadly impactful. I’m hoping that, with the seriousness of this initiative, the things innovated here spread more broadly to schools and homes across the country.

I’m always looking for my next generation of entrepreneurs to invest in, and I’m hoping some of them emerge from YELLOW’s experiences five years from now.

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