Beyond the Classroom

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Stamford American School Hong Kong

Cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 10:28am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 4:16pm

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In today’s age of start-ups, entrepreneurship and innovation skills are more important than ever. They even increase students’ chances of entering elite universities.

The Spike Lab, set up in 2016 in New York by two Americans, has helped students enter top institutions by bringing into fruition their self-initiated projects, including publishing a book crowdsourced from high school writers from around the world, creating data visualizations to help small nonprofits become more efficient, and designing an experiential classical violin concert through a series of mini popup concerts.

One student was accepted by University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business on the strength of her bold project advocating sustainability. She was actually the first student in her school’s recent history to enter the acclaimed business school. By appealing directly to potential donors, she raised funds for the installation of four electricity-producing bikes at a school and devised a health curriculum revolving around the use of a bike to promote fitness and alternative modes of transportation.

The inspiring project was done with coaching from The Spike Lab, whose mission is to help students develop their passions into “Spikes”, meaning unique achievements, that will help them stand out among the hundreds of thousands of university applicants each year. The Spike Lab specializes in both on-line, one-on-one coaching for developing Spikes, as well as providing whole support for students’ university applications. Coaches help senior year students create lists of colleges that fit them well based on their interests and personality, not just scores.

Specialisation gives students an edge

Co-founder Larry Liu said academic results or personal well-roundedness is not enough for gaining a coveted university place. Students can boost their admissions prospects to top US colleges the most by developing a Spike. “Universities are looking for students who can turn passion into actions because they are the people who can change the world,” he said. “Now it’s really all about specializing because universities get so many academically strong applicants every year, they want students to do something special; they are all trying to predict the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs; from their perspective, the best way to predict your future achievements is your past achievements.”


‘Boot camp’ for Stamford students

 Liu was in Hong Kong in July conducting a three-day innovation entrepreneurship ‘boot camp’ or workshop for a group of Stamford American School students. As part of the school’s STEMinn programme  centred on STEM education and innovation, the students were led through the very early stage of the startup process, based on a curriculum and concepts developed at Stanford University's Design School.

The founder of The Spike Lab, Lloyd Nimetz, who is an MBA graduate from Stanford University, spent much time at the famous design school during his studies there and was heavily influenced by the school’s approach to teaching innovation.  "The school’s Design Thinking framework is all about human-centered problem solving,” said Liu, a former teacher and holder of Columbia University’s teaching certificate. “When most people think about great innovation, they think about the solution -- the invention that changed the world like the iPhone, music streaming, etc. That's only part of it. The hard part is deeply understanding the user and the problem that they're experiencing. Without that, a breakthrough solution is impossible.”

Being able to empathize with users of a service or customers is an important first step towards addressing a problem, he adds. And while schools teach students about problem-solving, they can only do so much in helping students identify the nature of a problem.

At the camp, Stamford students went on an exploratory journey, using their STEMinn knowledge and skills. They also learned about rapid prototyping, built various versions of a prototype, and pitched their ideas in front of a panel of Stamford teachers.

Meaningful collaborations

The Spike Lab will continue to collaborate with Stamford by offering entrepreneurship program throughout the school year, creating more opportunities and avenues for their students to develop useful skills.

Earlier The Spike Lab organised an Ivy League seminar for Stamford parents, briefing them top US universities’ latest admissions criteria. The Spike Lab will join a Stamford Parent-School Association event in the fall to help parents ignite their children’s passions.  "All students are capable of developing a passion and doing something that they feel is meaningful,” Liu said. “Learning this meta-skill early is critical to living a happy, meaningful life."

Parents need not worry that channeling energy into entrepreneurial projects will undermine academic performance. To the contrary, Liu said, they found that students perform better academically after they have found a direction in their lives. “There is this synergy or transfer effect that school itself becomes more relevant when you have something you want to achieve; otherwise you are just learning for the sake of those subjects but once you have a far, bigger goal then all the subjects are in service of that goal.”