Makers Make Money: Just Ask Entrepreneuring Youth

The following is a guest post from Norton Gusky – Educational Technology Broker and education photo documentarian.

Entrepreneuring Youth

The Maker Space is about tinkering, building, creating, designing, but what’s the next step? According to Jerry Cozewith, the Executive Director of Entrepreneuring Youth (EY), a non-profit located in Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania, the next step is taking the creativity and innovation of the Maker Space into the world of student run-businesses.

One of the great success stories for EY is Shawn, a former Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS) student who started out as a shy young man who would not even look at you in the face. Shawn was a middle school student in the iOWN program, an entrepreneurial program coordinated by EY at MACS. Jerry tells the story about first meeting Shawn and his handshake was limp and his voice was almost inaudible. Today Shawn is a high school entrepreneur with his own bakery business. He had an interest in baking. EY gave him the supports and experiences to turn that interest into a passion that was not just about making food, but creating a system to have a business that turned a profit within two years. When you meet Shawn today he shakes your hand with a firm grip and tells you why you should purchase his pastries.

Jerry sees MACS as one of the best examples of how EY grows young people, taking them from where they are and giving them the confidence and chutzpuh to say, “Can you help me?” It’s that ability to realize that you need a mentor, a guide, that really separates the kids in EY from their peers. The talent to ask good questions leads to innovative solutions.

According to the Entrepreneuring Youth website: “We help young people start and operate businesses as a way to guide them toward their own path to success after high school. When young people run businesses of their own creation, they bloom with newfound confidence. They discover talents which were once hidden. They think of themselves as “owners” and “presidents.” Young people who become young entrepreneurs realize the value of creating (rather than waiting) for opportunities.”

According to one of the young entrepreneurs featured in a promotional video, EY gave her a voice. “… I could stand up before all of these people and say things that were on mind.”

Jerry focuses on the concept of “self-efficacy” as the key for success. It’s about empowering youth. It’s not just that kids learn the value of owning a business; it’s more about the growth of young men and women who have the tools and awareness that will make them successful wherever they travel or seek to make their imprint.

Today EY is creating success stories throughout the Pittsburgh region with a focus on the under-privileged, the under-served youth. Jerry shared a story about a recent event EY sponsored at the Oxford Center, a major commercial center in Downtown Pittsburgh. Initially there were only four parents signed up from the Hilltop project where EY partners with the YMCA. Jerry investigated and discovered that the parents did not have transportation and didn’t know how to travel to the Downtown destination. EY then rented a bus and over 75 adults came down from the “mountain” to see the world of Downtown youth commerce. EY empowered the parents to become supporters for their young entrepreneurs.

According to Jerry when you first looked at the display at Oxford Center display of student businesess it appeared to be a typical array of goods, but when you met the young people behind each business, you realized that there was something special happening. You knew that these young people had taken the first steps to success in the adult world. They knew how to communicate, how to sell themselves. They had confidence in themselves.

It’s the reason why we need more events like Startup Weekend EDU. We need to breed that entrepreneurial spirit where young people learn to network and pitch their ideas, to take risks, and learn by their initial mistakes and failures so they discern the value of the iterative process inherent in all “making” activities.

The Mythical Unicorn of Ed.Tech

The following is a guest post from Tim Cook, founder and director of the Saxifrage School.


With so many projects happening, so much money being spent, and so little time, it seems important (for my personal clarity) to take a moment and try to summarize exactly what we are all building towards, or should be. It’s what I’m trying to build, some way or another, over the next 10 years. I want to describe this mythical unicorn in a single sentence. The mythical unicorn is: An opendecentralized platform on which communities of people can create, curate, and browse an expansive map of local learning opportunities and digital resources that, as they learn, form a personal archive of proven skills and experiences. Okay, that’s it. The following is a glossary where I do my favorite thing and parse the sentence.


When I say “open”, I refer as much to the process of building the unicorn as the final product itself. Yes, this platform needs to be open-sourced and fully accessible and built to be shared, but even more urgent is the need to build this collaboratively out in the open. If we are going to build this, we need to collaborate, not duplicate. Too much of the important work happening in this space is siloed or poorly documented. Resources are limited and the goal is huge.


I’m not quite sure how to best build this in a decentralized way, but I’m convinced of its necessity. A decentralized platform is more equitable, does not limit user agency, and is less subject to problematic issues of privacy and control, etc. See the other values of the indieweb for inspiration. I would love to hear ideas and start a discussion on how we map and curate the wealth of the world’s learning resources in a decentralized framework. Maybe the answer is some sort of hybrid in which resource data is held centrally, but available to a federation of regional hubs… These hubs consist of thousands of learners who each have their own private webspace where they are hosting their personal learning archive and sharing out as they see fit… …Like we all have our own digital bookshelves, except they are knowledge maps and they are all connected … !? Maybe? Lots to think about. My thoughts are weak in this area.


Okay, I lied. There are actually two unicorns. That’s right, two mythical creatures. And the second is actually more important: the real communities of people and places that actually use this platform and its resources. These learning communities exist already in our schools and workplaces around specific majors or careers, but they should increasingly form organically around locally important subjects and problems. Projects like City of Learning and others are building frameworks in which a learner’s path is not driven by the limitations of their schools, but by their interests. If we start to use the entire city (or region + internet) as our campus, we can begin to think of learning beyond single institutions. If this happens, we will have an exciting moment to consider what learning communities could look like in “the real world”, outside of the peer-driven, often monocultural communities of our schools. Thoreau says that “we are all schoolmasters and our schoolhouse is the universe.” What do learning communities look like if learning moves in this direction? Meetups on steroids?


Perhaps the hardest part of all of this is to curate all the resources; it’s what a lot of smart people have been talking about as the next Herculean task for us denizens of the internet. We’ve created all this stuff, now let’s sort it all out and map it into a beautiful and usable network of learning resources. Google’s Director of Technology, Craig Silverstein admits the limitations of current technology: “My guess is about 300 years until computers are as good as, say, your local reference library in doing search, but we can make slow and steady progress, and maybe one day we’ll get there.” We need today’s librarians not to work as functional administrators of content, but as creative curators who help define what is best and sort out the complex relationships of resources. They have to do the powerful acts that Google cannot and may never be fully able to do. Just as the dark age monks before them, we desperately need librarians to protect, curate and hold aloft worthwhile knowledge. In the face of the barbarian hoards they were necessary because of the dearth of texts. Today it is the opposite. We need librarians as lighthouses amidst the floods of available information.

expansive map

The aggregate of this work done by librarians, content experts, and regular humans will be an expansive map that organizes all of the best learning resources and their relationships. Really, all of us have already been drafted into this work as curators and librarians. If the map could be made expansive enough, a 4th grader playing with legos who just came home from a field trip at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater could visualize every step along the way to mastery in the field of architecture. And they could start right then. This pre-requisite progress mapping helps to further drive home the importance of core skills like mathematics that, too often, feel disconnected from more direct, work-related pursuits. “Oh, so if I want to be an architect I need to master Trigonometry and Physics…and…” finalfantasy Rendering of Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X The magic of the “skill tree” is best captured and named in some of the most intricate video games. The Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X provides the player with a way to visualize a series of decisions for their development. Where should you start on the grid? Which direction should you go? If you choose a certain skill set, what areas are you forsaking? This sort of cost-benefit analysis that recognizes the opportunity cost implicit in all education is a powerful act that, while common in games, usually occurs with less intention and less tools in the development of real persons.

local and digital

On this map, there will be two primary types of content: local learning opportunities and digital resources. One exciting outcome of this would be the deconstructing of online courses. Instead of a self-contained silo of learning content, the “MOOC” could be broken apart into separate nodes of content with mapped relationships. The online “course” could become a specific pathway on the expansive map that is supported by an expert and a community of learners. Courses will fade into the background and function as a curatorial (and relational) layer on top of the great resources being created by experts. After all, we’ve always known that resources like Hack Design have always been better than anything on Coursera. The really successful “” platform will be the one that recognizes that technology is inherently neutral and that, when it comes to engaging a learner, relationships and learning communities will always trump content distribution and teaching machines. The platform must do this by taking on the important, but very complex job of pulling together both the digital resources and the entire social structure of education: workshops, volunteering, mentors, games, apprenticeships, courses, meetups, etc. etc. etc.


Imagine you are in some magical library of the future browsing poetry books in the stacks. Imagine that, when in those same poetry “stacks”, you could see instantly, what “books” you had read, what poems you liked or wrote about, and a portfolio of your own poems that resulted from your study. The library becomes more than a reservoir of content, but a data and planning center for the development of your mind. Imagine if such a map existed in three (four? fifty?) dimensions and included all subjects, displaying the process of development and connections between nodes. Again, some nodes could be whole texts, while others could be short sections on “This is how you learn X”, or an in-person local workshop. kahn Progress on a Khan Academy Knowledge Map Within this knowledge map, you will have the ability to plan courses of study, follow courses that others have crafted, or just learn everything within a certain content area. Perhaps most excitingly, long-time students will be able to look back at their progress over many years and see a serious portfolio of everything they have ever read, watched, created, and learned. Every assignment, quiz, and essay could be looked at individually, or in aggregate to give students a picture of their personal development thus far. If used to its fullest potential, a student would be able to see the lifelong progression of their talents in a snap-shot and the path they took to get there. They could then curate their personal portfolio and knowledge map and share it with the public as part of their CV or application for schools.


This, of course, brings us to just exactly how the public knows that your map contains proven skills and knowledge. The answer lies in some sort of data-rich external endorsement related to your learning experiences. This data-rich credential has, to date, most capably taken the form of digital badges. These badges can provide the data needed to help learners find their way to their next learning experience, to make their personal portfolio substantive, and to provide the credentials necessary for the public to trust and properly value that portfolio. thoughts? what’s your unicorn?

Reshaping Our World with Ed Tech

The following is a guest post from Mike Hruska, President and CEO of Platinum Sponsor Problem Solutions.

Educational Technology (ed tech) has the largest opportunity to radically reshape our world. Engaging students and employees along the continuum of learning experiences has the ability to impact innovation and economic growth. The most important thing that we can do through ed tech is enable teachers to be great teachers and students to be great students as lifelong learners.  We can do this by connecting people with the right experiences at the right time and with connecting people with the right people at the right time.

Funding is flowing into ed tech like never before.  Massive investments by venture capitalists continue to add to the over $1 Billion of venture capital that has been invested in ed tech up to 2012.  A recent single investment of $103 Million in earlier this month is the largest venture round in ed tech history.  That’s big – and is going to change the world.

We are excited about ed tech and our team at Problem Solutions has been working in learning and educational technology on specifications, standards, products, and new technologies for 15 years.




We have built more open source Ed TechEd tech projects through the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative than any other single program in government.  We have built things like the Experience API and the Learning Registry. We’ve also contributed to open source tools like the Generalized Intelligent Framework for Tutoring. These tools enable people to run further faster with ed tech on multiple fronts.

We have also helped existing and new companies dream and deliver new learning technologies and build award winning products like the recent Brandon Hall Gold award winner Trek.

We are excited about the possibilities that ed tech offers.  We are lucky to build useful and awesome things in this space with great people. These tools and technologies have helped the community to grow and will continue to impact it moving ahead.

Why do we do this?  Because the place where technology and education intersect has the largest ability to impact the world in positive ways.

We are looking forward to Startup Weekend Education so we can begin to grow innovative ed tech companies in Pittsburgh. What are you going to build to change the world?

Ed + Tech: At long last

I’ve spent almost a decade working on the tech side of ed tech, and over the years I’ve come to know a dynamic, creative, and passionate community. Back in the day, each camp was in a bit of a transition and seemed to operate independently; techies were too smart to need teacher’s recommendations and teachers were reluctant to let technology change their classroom.

But in recent years attitudes have changed and ed tech is thriving- especially in Pittsburgh! Now, we’re not just focused on working together, but we’re focused on working together to do better work.

Since ed and tech are a little more cozy, it’s easier to learn from each other. People working in both areas are similarly spunky, creative, solution-focused and iterative. But the worlds in which they work encourage the growth of separate skill sets. This is part of the reason Startup Weekend Education is so exciting!

The goal for this post is to suggest ways education and technology can benefit each other. Let’s start with educators, for without them this would not be Startup Weekend Education.

Photo courtesy of Norton Gusky. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Educators are used to thinking on their feet, and great at quickly changing strategies when they need to. Their work encourages:

Photo courtesy of Startup Weekend Pittsburgh.

To make viable goods and services, entrepreneurs focus on:

These skills are super complimentary and I can’t wait to see them put to work.  And these are just my observations- what do you think these communities can learn from one another?