PPCC challenges students to think like entrepreneurs

Gary Schoeniger has an attentive audience during his recent visit to Pikes Peak Community College.

Gary Schoeniger has an attentive audience during his recent visit to Pikes Peak Community College.

Gary Schoeniger’s vision of bringing entrepreneurialism to the masses keeps growing every month, and an integral piece of that vision revolves around Pikes Peak Community College.

Schoeniger, founder and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, along with Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Vice President of Entrepreneurship Thom Ruhe, were at the PPCC Centennial campus this month to discuss their pilot Ice House Entrepreneurship Program.

The program is currently being tested with a sampling of PPCC students. Next year half of all incoming freshmen will take the course as a prerequisite. According to Schoeniger, it is designed to educate and engage participants in the fundamental aspects of entrepreneurialism.

“People look at entrepreneurship solely through the lens of business creation,” Schoeniger said. “They look through that lens in one of two ways.”

Schoeniger said one common hurdle to true entrepreneurialism is the “Silicon Valley narrative.” He uses the example of young tech startups that make millions from selling an app as a misrepresentation of true entrepreneurship.

“That’s like pointing to a lottery winner as the face of financial literacy,” he said, adding most business students are taught to pitch to investors in the hopes of securing venture capital. Schoeniger said venture capital is responsible for 0.018 percent of startups, and of that miniscule amount, many fail.

He said the second hurdle, or lens, is searching for business opportunities that yield high growth, not high impact. High growth provides benefits for the few at the top, while high impact can mean positive outcomes for multitudes of people.

“The identification and validation of opportunities is what entrepreneurism is,” he said. “It requires curiosity and creativity. It means solving problems for other people which creates opportunities for yourself.”

The Ice House curriculum was inspired by the life story of author Clifton Taulbert’s African-American uncle, Cleve, who despite battling limited opportunities in segregated Mississippi, became his own boss and started an ice house. Schoeniger said it is the perfect narrative behind the curriculum.

“[Cleve] had no advantages,” he said. “We have to look at his mindset and framework for thinking. Not everyone [who takes the course] will start a business, but we are hardwired to solve problems.”

Schoeniger said the biggest problem is that the current economic model is working for fewer and fewer people.

Warren Munick, PPCC economics faculty and department chair, said the pilot program has changed the way his students have approached their educational path.

“It’s all been positive,” Munick said. “It’s really flipped education on its head. It’s very purpose-driven, the idea that you can find someone who can help you achieve success early. It creates a change in attitudes and careers. It gives [students] the confidence to ask [for help] from people who are successful.”

The Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation works to advance entrepreneurship education and training and, according to Ruhe, the Ice House program is “the crown jewel” of the foundation’s entrepreneur curriculum.

“There’s a ton of curriculum out there on how to write a business plan,” Ruhe said. “But there isn’t anything in the marketplace [like this curriculum.] Ice House taps potential.”

Lance Bolton, president of PPCC, added that faculty has been extremely enthusiastic about utilizing Schoeniger’s lessons in the classroom.

“I wish I could capture the energy in the room at the end of the Ice House training,” Bolton explained. “Gary asked if anyone wanted to share their thoughts and the response was overwhelming. Faculty who had once been skeptical and resistant were suddenly filled with optimism and excitement about taking the principles and ideals of Ice House into their classrooms and bringing this new way of thinking to life. Regardless of discipline — math, English, writing — faculty could see how beneficial this will be to students and ultimately our community.”

Danen Jobe, assistant professor of English and college composition as well as reading co-chair at the community college, echoed Bolton’s enthusiasm.

“Ice House has been a rare opportunity to inspire faculty and staff to start a program that will inspire students,” Jobe said. “Instead of looking at all that’s wrong in the world and fighting against this, you learn to take what you have and create your best possible future. It is possible that this will move students in remedial courses to taking charge of their coursework and plan for a positive future, and these students need that.”

After completing its pilot program, Pikes Peak will be the first community college in the nation to offer the curriculum as a general education requirement to interdisciplinary students.