The atmosphere is lively and energetic as middle school students gather in a Mesilla Park home for their weekly after-school business planning meeting. Seven students, a mix of homeschooled and Zia Middle School attendees, divide into two groups to go over their weekly milestone: technical design. The teams are participating in their second year of Innoventure, an NMSU Arrowhead Center entrepreneurship program for New Mexico middle and high school students. Each group creates, designs, develops, markets, and presents a unique product, all culminating in a competition at the end of each academic year.
Now in its 12th year, Innoventure Director Marie Borchert says the program is an integral part of the Arrowhead Center’s goal of entrepreneurial development leading to a strong state economy. “Through Innoventure, youth are trained to think like entrepreneurs,” Marie says. “We will hopefully spur business ownership by building a pipeline of people that think like entrepreneurs.”From the viewpoint of the middle school-aged participants, the benefits are even more immediate and practical to everyday life. “It’s helped me put my ideas out there,” notes Innoventure veteran Leah Downey, who transitioned from home school to public school last fall. “I’ve learned to slow down and present ideas. It’s helped me with my nerves.”
After two years of assisting students in product development, parent advisors Deidra Schaub and Michele Downey have seen the program in action and they say participating has value no matter how far a product goes in the final competition. “They learn to work with deadlines. They learn about teamwork and working with a group,” Deidra explains. “They find their strengths and bring them to the table. These skills will spill into a job or college.” “It is real world experience building a product that can go out and compete,” adds Michele.
“Even if it doesn’t work the team can bring it to the competition and explain why.” The participant-voted theme for the 2014–2015 academic year is reuse. Participants are encouraged to reuse materials that would normally be recycled by manipulating them, but not changing them, into something else, like say a bicycle made out of ardboard. One team, the Retro-recyclers, made wearable fashion accessories from previously-used plastic grocery bags. “Everybody has plastics bags that they’re not going to use,” observed team member Angelina Muro who braided her plastic strips into a belt.
Her team members, Cassandra Mullin and Rigel Lieseld, used their knitting skills to fashion strips of colored bags into jewelry. The group dynamic consists of each team member contributing according to his or her skills and desires to grow in a new direction. Drawing is one of Natalie Dominguez’s strengths. Her technical design sketch of a stadium cushion to be made from the iscarded outer wall of an above ground swimming pool was unanimously approved by Team Reuse-inators.
The next milestone, submitting a YouTube video of the design, appealed to Reuse-inators team members Patrick Schaub and Maxwell Chapman. Both are interested in film-making. “I like designing stuff and editing videos,” says Maxwell, who also said he enjoyed learning to work with a group and the whole entrepreneurial process of making a product and starting a business. Participating in nnoventure offers students an opportunity to interact with community members and gives parents a chance to share their expertise. Deidra, herself an entrepreneur, has several interrelated small businesses and income sources. She is an author, wellness advocate, and jewelry maker. Last year, team members consulted with artists at West End Art Depot on logo design, and executives at Wilson Binkley Advertising & Marketing about marketing. “Since the Reuse-inators and Retro-recyclers are being mentored by their parents, they have advisors with diverse backgrounds including a chemist, an electrician, an architect, a social worker, small business owners, and a yoga instructor,” notes Michele. “It’s a big commitment to meet every week, but it’s worth it.”
The students are learning by doing, Marie says, and part of that is finding their own mentors, although Innoventure can assist them. “We teach them the business aspect, and encourage their creativity and ingenuity when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, aka STEM,” she explains. Innoventure emphasizes STEM, as well as business. One oft-used planning tool is the visual Business Model Canvas, which is replacing business plans. “It makes more sense to the kids. It’s a trend in start-ups,” Marie adds. Since Innoventure is an extra-curricular activity for already busy students, teachers, and parents, participation has been more concentrated in rural areas of the state where schools may have fewer activities to offer students.
Participant recruitment takes place in the late spring and summer for the upcoming fall school term. Marie reaches out to middle and high school principals, as well as other groups such as New Mexico Mesa. A former teacher herself, Marie is still just as excited about Innoventure as she was 12 years ago when the program first started. She is encouraged by watching budding entrepreneurs over time. “I enjoy interacting with teachers and students, and seeing everyone’s products,” she explains. “The kids are polite, engaged, and excited. I’m not worried about the next generation. They have so much going for them.”
Friday, May 1, 2015
3 pm open for public viewing
Corbett Center at NMSU