© 2018 by Ethan Kenvarg

CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT: Future Founders Discover

Future Founders offers youth of all ages programs to connect them with mentors and develop their entrepreneurial and critical thinking skills. One of its core components is Discover, a series of high-energy in-class workshops that teach low-income elementary and high school students how to think like an entrepreneur. Based on a program Uptake Co-Founder and CEO Brad Keywell created in 2006, Discover serves nearly 1,000 students across Chicagoland each year.

As the Program Coordinator for Discover, I managed all aspects of the program, including content, partnerships, and logistics. I directly engaged students across twelve Chicago Public Schools during in-class sessions and monitored individual and group progress through the curriculum. Additionally, I developed and maintained volunteer and corporate partnerships, managed our social media campaigns, ran our organizational website, and assisted in grant writing.

The Challenge

Redesign and facilitate a high-quality, year-long experiential learning program to teach core entrepreneurship skills and principles low-income students.

The Outcome

A revised and iterative curriculum that incorporates user feedback, as well as insights from business and technology leaders, to promote student learning and achievement.

When I joined the Future Founders team in 2014, the Discover program was adrift. The workshops were lecture-based rather than activity-driven, leaving students with little motivation or interest. While students had many touch points throughout the year, sessions were disjointed and incongruous, stunting long-term retention of skills and concepts. School leaders had taken note and began dropping the program from their in-school activities roster.  

As Program Coordinator, I set out to improve the efficacy of the program, while also making it more fun and engaging for students. Taking a human-centered design approach, I utilized qualitative feedback and quantitative data from student exit surveys, as well as insights from principals and teachers, to build a new curriculum from the ground up.

In this revised iteration, created in conjunction with pro bono consultants from Accenture and Google, students formed small groups and were tasked with completing hands-on project-based work during each and every session. Rather than acting as isolated touch points, these sessions built upon one another, leading students from opportunity recognition and market research all the way to prototyping and business pitches. By the end of the curriculum cycle, instead of being left with a vague notion of entrepreneurship, each student developed, completed and presented a business plan for a product of their own design.

In addition to this improved curriculum, I also devised and implemented the Future Founders Challenge. During this day-long event, select student teams were invited to an “Amazing Race”-style challenge, competing in various volunteer-led activities that put their newly developed entrepreneurial skills to the test. These dedicated students were able to tangibly demonstrate the knowledge they developed in the classroom, while also furthering their entrepreneurial interests.

The Impact
  • 1,800 hours of service provided by volunteers

  • 900 students from a dozen schools impacted annually

  • Statistically significant increase in the number of students interested in pursuing higher education

  • 100 students and 25 volunteers participated in the inaugural Future Founders Challenge

  • Partnerships developed with Accenture, Motorola, Google, and Capital One

Overhauling the Discover program was a boon for both Future Founders and the students it serves. We developed new and lasting partnerships with elementary and high schools, reaching over 200 additional students. Furthermore, a significantly greater proportion of our students reported feeling interested in becoming entrepreneurs, as well as being more motivated to pursue a path in higher education. Beyond the student body, our corporate partnerships and volunteer engagement flourished, thanks to the eye-catching spectacle of the Challenge, as well as our revised in-class activities.