on being an educational entrepreneur

Below, an old friend and colleague reaches out to me for my thoughts about whether he should become an educational entrepreneur. My responses detail some of how I think and feel about the work I am doing.



6 messages

G.H. Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 8:27 PM
To: Gabe Kuriloff <gabriel.kuriloff@gmail.com>
Hey dude.So, I need a little advice.  Moving to VA was a stop gap thing to get some income (and drastically cut my expenses), but it’s not really a long term solution.  I need to start thinking about next steps.As you know, I’ve been intrigued by the work you’re doing, and the people with whom you’re doing it.  Based on your recent “update,” it sounds like you’re going into some even more concrete work towards opening.  What exactly does that entail?

But, more to the point:  I have a business idea for an [I’ve deleted the actual business idea] education program.  I’ve done a lot of thinking and scheming and I think I have something here.  The thing is:  it’s a HUGE undertaking.  And one that requires a great deal of groundwork before offering a course (let alone several).  Included in this is making partnerships with faculty and a few strategic universities — something I haven’t quite problem-solved yet (the rest of it is logistical stuff I’ve faced before).

If I had an extra couple hundred grand laying around that I could use to pay a few smart people to help me build this thing, that would be awesome.  But I don’t.  And, the time between starting the work and making our first dollar is going to be really long.  Which also makes fundraising really difficult.

You’re engaged in a similar undertaking.  How did you manage it, mentally and logistically?  I assume everyone you’re working with is otherwise employed.  Are you getting enough support?  Are things moving as quickly as you had hoped?  Are you going insane?  Is it just about having a solid vision, closing your eyes, and running like a banshee on fire?


Gabriel Kuriloff <gabriel@schoolforreal.org> Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 2:52 PM
Reply-To: gabriel@schoolforreal.org
To: G.H.
So, basically, this is not a settled or easy life. It’s stressful and no matter what happens, I never feel like there’s enough help. I am full of anxieties and I’m already spending my own money! Having said this, I love  it, it’s just really stressful.

You should read the Mousedriver Chronicles, by Lusk and Harrison (2002) (both the website and book are interesting and helpful). Also, you might want to check out How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, by Bornstein (2007). Both of these are, at the very least, a little comforting and quite useful as thinking aids.

Mostly, this work seems to be about being diligent, focusing on your vision, and staying on the ball. I reflect a lot about how lonely it is (although I have some fellow entrepreneurs who give me some comfort) and a lot of the challnege is just in believing and keeping on.

Anyway, I would encourage you to start mapping out a business plan and thinking about feasibility. Do a little market study and see what else is out there. That should give you some sense of how worth pursuing your concept is.
How’s that?

Gabriel Kuriloff <gabriel.kuriloff@gmail.com> Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 2:55 PM
To: G.H.
btw, the “opening” entails mostly politics (read gladhanding) and fundraising. We need a location and then we need a bunch of ducks lined up in a row.


G.H.                                                                                                    Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 4:43 PM
To: Gabriel Kuriloff <gabriel.kuriloff@gmail.com>
Thanks for the input.  As if you have time for follow up questions:
1.  How long have you been planning to do this?
2.  Are you working also?
3.  Where is the financing for the school coming from right now?
4.  Are all the others (ZM, VD, et al) working full time, and helping on the side?
I have a fairly strong and developing vision for what I want to do.  It’s just going to take a LOT of ground work before anything could happen.  I don’t know how to feed myself in the meantime.
The other thing is a chicken / egg scenario:  it’s hard to get anyone to help out unless they know this is going to happen for real; but I won’t know if it can happen until people get involved.  Any insight?
Thanks again.

Gabriel Kuriloff <gabriel.kuriloff@gmail.com> Tue, Oct 5, 2010 at 7:54 PM
To: G.H.
1. I’ve been planning to do this for like 15 years, seriously planning for more like four or five, but I could have done it in less time if I hadn’t been being patient about it

2. Sort of. I’m teaching and TAing a bit and picking up some other work. I don’t make very much, but I’m married at least (and if all else fails, I can get hopefully work as a public school teacher or principal).
3. Nowhere. But soon, hopefully, from some friends and family financing, and then from some major donors, some grants, a fellowship or two. Anything I can scrape together.
4. Yes. Everyone on the team except me, M.H. and C.Y. work full time, but the two of them basically work full time on other things. I’m the only person who works on it day-in, day-out.
Finally, my basic planning and design outline was to first pitch a broad vision to a few key people (in my case educators that I love and others who are recommended to me through the grape vine of existing members or my contacts at Penn). Once I had those people involved, we started to build something together. The work ate up their free time and for several years they’ve had to trust that I was going to ensure that it was all worthwhile. I have found that the vision has grown deep and become powerful as excellent people have been willing to work on it. Some of those people have come and gone, but in every time of need someone has stood by me, often a number of people. As far as I can tell, the only reason for that is that people believe in what we are trying to do together (and perhaps I project enough confidence that people assume I am competent).
I really believe in our work and I believe we can succeed. I’ve spent a really long time working on this, thinking about the school and about design, and learning everything I can about schools, teaching and learning, and about community development and change. Hopefully, that will continue to be enough to make people want to get involved. So far, I’ve got some exciting developing partnerships.


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