The Edupreneur

Bringing the Excitement of Entrepreneurism
to the Public Schools
by Charles W. Lavaroni, M.S. and Donald E. Leisey, Ed.D.

Entrepreneurism is considered by many as the foundation of the United States' success as a worldwide economic leader. According to the Webster Dictionary, "an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and manages an enterprise, especially a business with considerable risk." Just a cursory look at what is happening today in India, China and Russia confirms the potential power of the entrepreneur. Apparently, a government that allows, encourages and supports the individual's creativity seems to insure the possibility of growth for both the individual and for the society as a whole.


Interestingly, a new and related construct is being identified in the literature and currently practiced in a variety of disciplines and fields: that is INTRAPRENEURISM. The American History Dictionary defines an intrapreneur as, " A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk taking and innovation."

He/she does not risk his/her own money in the process. According to Gifford Pinchot, who has written extensively about intrapreneurism, "an intelligent organization develops and engages the intelligence, business judgement, and wide system responsibility of all its members.

By using the intelligence of every employee, an organization can respond far more effectively to customers, partners and competitors."

In the business world the reason for intrapreneurism is obvious. The ultimate objective is profit for that business. In the area of non-profit, social services organizations the result of supporting the intrapreneur produces a stronger array of services to benefit its clients, instead of profit.

Our personal experiences, over the past several years, helped us understand the similarities and differences between these two concepts. Many years ago, as teachers and administrators in the public schools, we recognized the potential power of the entrepreneurial spirit. We were committed to trying new ideas. We were willing to be innovative and risk taking, sometimes without the support of the school district. We were excited about thinking out of the box. We saw great potential in looking for new solutions for old problems. We were convinced that we personally exhibited some of the behavioral characteristics of the entrepreneur. We remembered some successes as well as failures in the schools and districts in which we worked. We considered ourselves as being entrepreneurial.


It was only after leaving the public schools did we in fact become entrepreneurs. We were committed to our new ventures, developing a series of very successful educational endeavors including independent schools for profit. We continued to try ideas that would enhance learning opportunities for our clients. We thought out of the box. And, we did this by risking our own money and personal resources. We were responsible to ourselves and our clients: the students, the parents and our professional colleagues. We were not responsible to a governmental agency over which we had little or no control except for health and safety issues and reporting purposes such as taxes and attendance. We could measure our success as entrepreneurs especially in our independent schools by many traditional means: test scores, surveys, student portfolios, drop out rates, teacher retention, attendance records and parent participation. And, what's more, at the end of the year we could accurately determine our profitability.

The intrapreneur in business or non-profit, social service agencies might use similar techniques when assessing their success with clients. In the business world, profit becomes an obvious one. In the non-profit world profit is not a criterion, but money is a part of measuring success. Money contributed will affect the health of the organization, its stability and the number of clients it serves. In both instances, the intrapreneur functions at the pleasure of a larger organization that defines and limits his/her creativity.

A few years ago we decided to write a book, THE EDUCATIONAL ENTREPRENEUR: Making A Difference, to celebrate the lives of educational entrepreneurs who left the security of public education to start businesses to improve learning in America. The book includes 22 educational entrepreneurs from 18 states who created a business for learning. We define an educational entrepreneur as: "A person who has served as an educator prior to organizing a business related to education and has invested time, energy, and capital to create, develop, and market a program, product, service, or technology to enhance learning." The educational entrepreneurs in our book were, like us, former teachers and administrators who had to leave the public schools in order to translate their dreams into reality. These men and women created a variety of successful businesses that provided new and exciting products, programs, services, or technologies that improved learning for students which they were unable to do while working within the "school system." They were developers and publishers of educational products, media, tutorial services, independent schools, educational consultation programs, an educational software publisher, an educational retail services store as well as others. The one thing they had in common was that each had to leave "the system" in order to bring his/her dreams to reality.

Later, as we tried to identify educational intrapreneurs, we had a similar problem. After many failed attempts, we did not find a public school district which in fact had in place a publicly recognized structure which identified, encouraged and supported an individual who exhibited an intrapreneurial bent. In fact, in our own experiences and in discussion with others, we often found just the opposite. The creative, risk taking, exciting teacher or administrator was as often as not considered different, out of step or some kind of trouble maker. He/she was an outsider. Therefore in many instances the very people who might make some important changes left the schools for employment in other, often related, fields.

The more we searched our minds and the educational environment, the more we became convinced that a new "model" was necessary to provide some kind of direction for schools and school districts. This new model would be one that is designed to honor and release the entrepreneurial spirit in an individual teacher or administrator. It would encourage the development of programs, products, services, and/or technologies that directly "fit" the goals and structure of the public schools. It could not be limited to the behaviors used by entrepreneurs as they start up new businesses. Nor, could it be limited to similar behaviors employed by the intrapreneur in a large corporation or a non-profit agency. The "playing fields" are different. A public school district is neither a business nor a non-profit social service agency. Therefore, neither the entrepreneurial nor the intrapreneurial models have direct application to the schools.


Public Schools are different. They are basically governmental agencies; neither for-profit nor non-profit. During the past roughly 150 years or so of their existence, the government-public schools have become entrenched with many forces in place to perpetuate the status quo. In order to keep creative, courageous, free-thinking, and competent educators within the system there must be an orderly process that allows these professionals to "do their thing" to make the system better — thus the EDUPRENEUR. We define an EDUPRENEUR as, "a person within the public schools who takes hands on responsibility in creating and developing a program, product, service, and/or technology for the enhancement of learning consistent with the stated goals of and supported by that organization."


To meet this definition, we offer an Edupreneurial Model, one that might be used to help the school district create a structure to support the individual and keep his/her energy, enthusiasm, and creativity within the district. THE EDUPRENEURIAL CYCLE is a graphic representation of the interrelated components necessary to plan, develop, use, market, evaluate and sustain a successful Edupreneurial Project within the public schools.

To assure accountability for boards of education, administrators, teachers and the community as a whole, we propose the Edupreneurial Cycle which in effect produces a living "business plan" and addresses the key questions: what, why, who, how, and when.. Using this cycle, potential edupreneurs will translate their ideas and thoughts into writing. After researching their ideas, they develop goals and objectives, and their relationship to district goals, determine budget requirements, outline personnel requirements and training, facility needs, legal constraints, determine student interests, parental involvement, potential impact on schools, identify a marketing plan, an implementation plan, and an ongoing assessment and evaluation strategy.


To be of real value any EDUPRENEURIAL project must have the potential of making a significant impact on learning. Because of this potential, it is imperative that progress reports are made available to local staff, other schools, the district administration, the board of education, and the community. Time and money must be allocated for these activities. Continued field-testing is integral to any EDUPRENEURIAL effort.

Ongoing communication is not only important to the project, but to the people involved as well. All too often, without consistent and public review, participating staff members are somehow considered "special" by other staff and parents. Without care, the project could begin to appear separate from the district and its total responsibilities. When this occurs, people are hurt. Petty jealousy and envy infiltrates the "teachers room" and the general familiar sense of a close knit faculty is placed in jeopardy.

Continued assessment and evaluation activities are important for the good of the project as well as for the benefit of the staff and district. These provide the information necessary to confirm the validity of the project. And, if successful, provide the information necessary to expand the project within the district and/or to schools in other communities and states. It is through assessment/evaluation activities that refined recommendations are formed to continue the "CYCLE." New Marketing-Distribution activities, refined Development strategies and continued Research and Planning tasks will constantly reflect the data collected and reported. Too many projects are jeopardized when assessment and evaluation are limited to the time of project renewal.

Assessment/Evaluation data are necessary as they provide the rationale upon which all decisions might be made as to the continuation of the project, including the decision to cancel it. We believe decision-makers should look at any EDUPRENEURIAL project as being ad-hoc in nature and not become institutionalized. If a project fails to achieve the purported goals it should be discontinued without chastisement or derision.

A very important understanding in reviewing the "Edupreneurial Cycle" is that it is in fact cyclical. It is not linear. It does not describe the specific sequence of activities. All four "sets" are interrelated. Each influences the other. Effort must consistently be made to seek out and respond to the ongoing influences each has on the other.

The Eduprenurial Cycle should be used as a reminder as to what should be done. It is up to the leadership to use it to decide what, when, who, where, and how it is being implemented The cycle can also be used to help all involved identify the strategy to insure communication throughout the process.

A firm and public commitment to the EDUPRENEURIAL process must be made in the school and district if it is to succeed. That means that a new look as to how the resources of personnel, time energy and money will be distributed. The traditional way teachers are assigned, salaries determined, length of the school day, secretarial assignments are made, and professional hours are recognized will all come under new scrutiny. Fresh thinking by participants, including teachers and their representatives, administrators, board members, parents and the community as a whole, will influence the success of the EDUPRENEURIAL CYCLE. All in all, that means a significant change in the way schools are governed, organized, and administered. And ultimately, that means the state must publicly be involved in providing the structure in which the process can take place. While many changes may in the future be necessary for a complete overhaul in the system, we believe that as of now a creative and risk taking board and administration has enough freedom to begin the process in a local community.

Today there is a large turnover of teachers throughout the nation. We believe that by giving teachers and administrators the opportunity to receive a "fraction of the action," many will remain challenged and motivated to remain in the profession. The recruitment of new educators who are committed to making changes for the improvement of learning should also be enhanced.

As we said earlier, the EDUPRENEURIAL process must be initiated at the local school level, supported by the district administration, approved and funded by the board of education and made public to the community. Any "product" will be owned, licensed, and controlled by the district. Additional income received as a result of the project must be budgeted by the district by following an established policy, agreed upon and recognized by teachers, administrators and the community. Rewards may be offered to various EDUPRENEURS in the form of money, time, equipment, personal assistance, or professional development opportunities. Again, an important purpose of EDUPRENEURISM is to make it possible for the EDUPRENEUR to reignite the enthusiasm and excitement of the professional educator to remain in the classroom or school.

We see the fulfillment of the concept of the EDUPRENEURIAL process, through the implementation of the EDUPRENUIAL CYCLE, as result of a total commitment by the district. It is a living, on going process; one that will positively affect the educational climate of all who work within the district and the students it serves.

EDUPRENEURISM has the potential for improving schools and learning by bringing forth and supporting the creativity of educators. The EDUPRENEURIAL CYCLE will help professional educators focus their energies on developing programs, products, services, and/or technologies for the benefit of students, the school and learning as a whole. We believe that by providing, encouraging and supporting teachers and other school employees the opportunity to engage in EDUPRENEURIAL efforts many needed changes and improvements in education can be realized. Peer leadership, information literacy, differential learning, results driven accountability, curriculum interaction, weaving character education into the culture of the school, the length of the school day and year, charter schools, distance learning, programs for gifted and talented students, programs for at-risk students, after school enrichment programs, creative arts and many other worthwhile programs, services, products and/or technologies are worthy of EDUPRENEURIAL study and effort.

The potential is unlimited!

Both Don and Chuck invite any questions, comments, or reactions. They are confident that they have identified an important reason as to why so many creative educators have left the profession and thereby have weakened it. Your input is important to them. You may reach them via our Contact page.