Where the Leadership Magic Happens.
Investing in Youth Ideas and Innovations.
When we give and invest in spaces for young people to create, explore and share ideas they are passionate about, while at the same time, honoring their voice, a magic of the confidence and leadership kind occurs. Seeds of a future they, and we adults, never imagined is planted and a belief that they can create this future becomes a possible reality.
At the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), I am seeing this happen consistently. This weekend while serving as a judge and friend of the IMSA Talent program, was another example of how a learning academy of a different kind is creating that space for young people to create the future they want tomorrow, today.
A few years ago I was introduced to Carl Heine, the program director for entrepreneurship at IMSA. He invited me to be one of the judges at the academy’s annual Talent entrepreneurship program. Here, young people in middle and high school from across the region are mentored on their social, business and technology ideas and at the end participate in the IMSA Power Pitch event. Akin to shark tank youth teams compete for cash prizes to invest in their ideas to bring them to life in the world.
With Carl and co-organizer Jim Gerry leading the program with support from the amazing team at IMSA’s innovation center, IN2 ~ Sue Fricano, Behati Hartt, Britta Wilk McKenna, Erik Swanson, Luke Lucchetti as well as mentors, judges and sponsors, the 2018 Talent Power Pitch was one of the largest yet, with over 40 some youth teams competing.
This year disruptive ideas ranged from impacting change in how oil spills are cleaned up, next-generation clean energy battery sources, drone technologies to support agricultural land-use, VR for stress-relief remedies, digitized mathematical learning aids for the differently abled, bridge tutoring programs for education equity, games to advance diversity education, to smart aids for the elderly … and many more.
Every year I look forward to this event and every year I leave heart bursting open for the talent, professionalism, and hope for a future with these young people leading it in a multiplicity of ways. I also walk away with a learning I take back into my social business+education world.
In judging this weekend, and being witness to middle schoolers competing against high schoolers, and reflecting on my own experience working with small to large companies alike, I made a note in my journal of this one very important learning that ALL entrepreneurs could also consider …
Age and years experience does not determine success as an entrepreneur or of a business idea. And neither does your ego or connections. It is a spreadable idea, with a well-crafted story and a detailed feasibility assessment for your ideas launch and life in the world.
And young people GET THIS. Some of the most disruptive innovations have been developed not by 40-something’s, or seasoned business professionals, but by children and youth whose lens is not yet whitewashed or biased by the dominant narratives of the generations before them.
All it takes is for adults to create and invest in the spaces for them to learn differently, to believe in and support the development of their ideas and most importantly, to honor their true voice. In fact, seasoned business professionals could learn A LOT from young people.
To the entire team at IN2 and IMSA, thank you for all you do. May there be more schools with ways of learning like you. And to all the amazing students and your parents who are supporting you and your ideas … thank you for creating the path, and putting in the long hours to imagine our world differently.