Thursday, November 6, 2008

Panelists Discussed Entrepreneurial Success and Failure

To begin the summit, the panelists briefly described the organizations where they work. They all offer very valuable and interesting programs.

I was particularly struck by a piece of information that Barbara Linder shared. We were sitting in Urbana, and she told us, "You all know Urbana. I thought I knew Urbana. [The Urbana of the state streets.] But did you know that 65% of the students in Urbana schools now qualify for free or reduced price lunches?" (Correction from Barbara: "I should clarify. The figure of 65% (actually 64.9%) is of low-income students at Urbana Middle School in the 2007-08 school year. ... The district figure is 55%. Each school is slightly different, however UMS serves all students in Urbana who go to public middle school.)

No, I didn't know that.

(And my students certainly don't know that. I will have to investigate this further and build a lesson around. I am afraid that some of the Spanish CBL students enter the local schools and equate "Latino" with "low-income." Both of those terms are so much more complex than that. Barbara's information can help me present that to students.)

Then I asked the panelists the first question:

Entrepreneurship in all of its realms--commercial, social, intellectual, and cultural--involves creativity and frustration, persistence and passion, successes and failures, specific skills and instinct. Can you describe one of your successful "entrepreneurial endeavors" and one that failed. What did you and your organization learn from your success and from the failure?

Alejandro Molina described an urban agricultural program that his organization is organizing--which includes growing the spices to make Puerto Rican sofrito that the youth will then sell.

Barbara Linder told the story of getting a grant to pay staff to organize their mentoring program. But after the grant ran out the program was threatened. To save it, local community members--including business leaders--who participated in the program convinced the school board that they couldn't get rid of it, that the value of the program was so much more than the money that needed to be invested in it.

Omar Duque told of the successful businesses launched by two of their members, including Media Cafe. Then he also told the story of the boom in number of members who started web design businesses in the 90s. One of those business owners came to them later and said, "This isn't working. I need to do something else." He then changed his business around and offered a service that was less "exciting" than design, but more profitable; he faced the failure and turned it into a success.

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