Five years ago, I stepped into a classroom for the first time as a college professor. I had taught several classes online and shared my knowledge on stages around the globe throughout my career, but teaching in a classroom is a whole other level of experience.
Students apply to take part in this program, and every year, it has grown exponentially. They commit to coming back from winter break a week early and spending that time in an intensive learning program that will take their fledgling idea for a social business and grow it into something more solidified in six long days of work and mentoring.
A year ago, I took part in GCEN’s Social Venture Research Institute to learn more about the courses and consulting that GCSEN offers while also serving as a coach to the students and a judge in the final Business Plan Pitch Competition.
Earning a Business and Management degree from Wheaton College is not the same as other schools. We instill a sense of the greater good in each graduate. They’ve been exposed to more than only spreadsheets and startups. The deep-rooted liberal arts education ensures that they approach every situation with an open mind and the skills to attack problems from multiple angles. They know that making a profit is vital for any business, but they also know that thinking about the social impact of a company is also crucial.
This was not an easy week for the students. Twelve-hour days was the minimum as they arrived in the morning and fueled up and then would spend the rest of the day in a mix of classroom time, one-on-one coaching, and working on their three-minute pitch that they’d give at the end of the week. We even squeezed in a field trip to Greentown Labs and a tour of the multiple maker spaces on campus.
A special highlight for everyone this year was the end of the day lessons from Dr. Vanessa Collingridge, who joined us from Scotland. Her energy and expertise helped the students be more aware of what their stance, body language, and even clothes expressed to others. I’ve met many speaker and impact coaches over the years, but I’ve never met someone like Ness before, and I look forward to chatting with her more in the future.
Many of the students who took part had been recruited from my classes, so it was nice to see so many familiar faces. I made a point to chat with every student I didn’t know so that when we see each other on campus, we can say hello.
It was rewarding to watch as the students struggled through their hurdles in confidence, pieces of their business plan, and fear of public speaking to get to the point of success they all reached on Friday when they each got up and gave a three-minute pitch of their business. I teared up a few times in the back of the room as the pride and happiness in how well they did overflowed.
These twenty students each arrived with at least a seedling of an idea. At the end of the week, they left with a solid business foundation to take to the next level. We had art-focused upcycling, mental health awareness fashion for first responders, several different apps, a subtle LGBTQ+ apparel brand, an inclusive modeling agency and many more unique business ideas developed.
Each student will work over the semester as much as they choose on their business ideas. There will be monthly video calls to check in and reconnect. In May, after classes finish, there will be a second intensive week that they can take part in that will focus more directly on launching their business beyond only pitching it.
I’m incredibly fortunate to be a member of the Wheaton Faculty and to have been asked to be involved with this program. I know that not all of the business ideas will grow into full-time jobs for all of the students, but they all know that they could start something on the side at a minimum if they desired to.
With classes starting tomorrow at Wheaton, I can’t wait to see the boot camp participants and catch up with them. I stressed to them all that I’m on campus and always available to chat with them and help in any way I can. Hopefully, some will pop into my office for a lollipop and a chat soon.