From One Educator to Another: Advice on Being an Entrepreneur

This post was written by Mandela Schumacher-Hodge, the Director of Startup Weekend Education.

Last month, I had the privilege of speaking on Teach for America Oklahoma’s Social Innovation Panel. The advice that my fellow panelists shared in that conference hall was so powerful that I immediately thought others interested in making the transition from educator to entrepreneur, or passionate about being more “entrepreneurial” in their current role as educators, would benefit from receiving this information. The following is a summary of the three biggest pieces of advice each panelist, and former Teach for America Corps Member, shared with current classroom educators interested in learning more about entrepreneurship:


In photo from left to right: Andre Feigler, Vinit Sukhija, Carlisha Williams, and Mandela Schumacher-Hodge

Andre Feigler is the Founder of Youth Run NOLA and and Founder and CEO of Enriched Schools, which makes it easy to find the perfect substitute teacher, guest speaker or flexible staff for your school.

  1. Be truthful with yourself about your passion and honest about why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you’re going to head down this path, build something that sets you on fire and that you have some unexplainable desire to pursue. If after reflection you realize you have no choice but to honor your idea or charge at your vision — give it all you’ve got. Be fearless, relentless and bold in the face of inevitable failures and have the conviction that it will work.

  2. Along the way, find mentors and surround yourself with people that are good, and great — those that can help you learn to fail faster and forward, stay grounded and live with compassion, and become wiser and more focused with your drive — and learn from and listen to them.

  3. We need you, the teachers. You know and experience most of the critical, urgent and real problems in today’s education system, and thus, are experts in creating solutions that improve learning and life outcomes for kids. I would challenge folks to think boldly about how we might “redesign” education to inspire, challenge, and support students for the future — questioning structural and pedagogical assumptions — and not merely settle with small change or minor improvements for schools of yesterday.


Vinit Sukhija is the Manager of the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Initiative at Teach for America, which focuses on engaging corps members and alumni to develop, sustain, and grow their own game-changing social ventures that will end educational inequity.

  1. You don’t need to be the founder of a new venture in order to be a social entrepreneur. Launch something new in your classroom, your school, or in your community that solve a problem that really bothers you!

  2. Empower your students to be innovators – never forget to leverage your students’  life experiences and creativity as you lesson plan.

  3. Discover your true passion in education, and run with it. Create a vision for the future of education and work relentlessly – within entrepreneurship or not – to make it a reality.


Carlisha Williams is the Founder and Executive Director of Women Empowering Nations, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of girls and women through self-esteem development, global education, and leadership outreach programs. Also, Carlisha’s documentary, The World They Knew, just debuted!

  1. Start now. I encourage educators to begin being the change they want to see even while still in the classroom. Whether you are impacting two or two hundred in year one, it’s important to take the first step in working towards your dream.

  2. Passion is everything. The greatest asset of any social entrepreneur is a deep passion and love for the work. A great way to stay anchored in that is by writing a vision statement that reminds you of why you are in this work. My vision statement has kept me focused during the ups and downs on the journey of entrepreneurship.

  3. Know what makes your work unique. A great investment of time before starting a venture is researching what other businesses and organizations are doing who work in areas similar to your interest. Use what is already out there to learn from their work, inspire new ideas, and define your target audience.


My Tidbits of Wisdom:

  1. Other people, who are not professional educators, really do care about education too, and should be welcomed in this space as potential collaborators and allies in improving educational experiences for learners. It’s programs like Startup Weekend Education that move dialogue into action, and create a safe space for anyone and everyone to pursue their education ideas and collaborate with like-minded individuals who have complementary skill-sets.

  2. Be selfish in your pursuit of a selfless venture. I know it might seem like a contradictory statement, but what I’m saying is to selfishly choose a venture or initiative that you are truly passionate about. The fact of the matter is, when you are working on something you sincerely care about, you will have the resolve to stick with it, when the going gets tough – and I promise you, it will get tough!

  3. Your business, your leadership and management skills, your relationships…everything will get better when you, as an individual, get better first. Really take ownership in your own personal and professional development and watch how those internal improvements positively impact your external circumstances.