Education Through the Eyes of Entrepreneurs

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(Photo above: Central Oregon entrepreneurs from Opportunity Knocks partner with educators from High Desert Education Service District to inspire innovation in education | courtesy of HDESD)

High Desert Education Service District partners with business leaders to enhance education in Central Oregon.

Innovation and thought leadership are not new concepts in education. In fact, our nation’s educators are tirelessly exploring ideas to enhance learning and student success. The challenge, however, is capturing and supporting those ideas while balancing excellence and equity in a climate where education funding continues to shrink. While the business community has long embraced innovation as a core value, educators are beginning to look for new ways to nurture it as an integral part of the education culture.

In December of 2015, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced the appointment of an “education innovation officer” to help improve the state’s graduation rates and encourage new investments in technical education. In Central Oregon, the High Desert Education Service District recently appointed Anna Higgins as director of innovation to bring forward creative ideas in education and to help educators develop the skills and resources needed to present and implement them.

“Educators are innovating every single day, but there hasn’t been a coordinated approach to capturing and supporting their ideas,” said Higgins. “Now we’re making it a priority.”

According to Higgins, the HDESD has created an innovation process called i4, which stands for Ignite, Investigate, Innovate, and Incubate. The process involves a unique partnership with members of the Central Oregon entrepreneurial community through local nonprofit Opportunity Knocks. Opportunity Knocks (OK) is a 20-year-old member supported organization that matches industry and community leaders with a trusted, facilitated team of peers who act as one another’s informal Board of Advisors. OK teams share expertise and advice to drive professional, personal and business growth.

Opportunity Knocks recently recruited a team of volunteer entrepreneurs to participate in monthly “Pitch Workshops” in which educators present their innovative ideas. The entrepreneurs listen, ask difficult questions and help determine which ideas are ready to move to a “Pitch Panel” where judges award funding for implementation to the strongest ideas. The Pitch Panel is made up of two HDESD team members and two business leaders, and a school district Superintendent who can allocate small investments for innovation ideas.

“The OK entrepreneurs participating in the pitch workshops are generous, collaborative, analytical thinkers; they ask tough, fresh questions and encourage educators to think outside the box,” said Aly Waibel, executive director for Opportunity Knocks. “The camaraderie and creativity that emerges when entrepreneurs and educators have the opportunity to think and create together is very inspiring and we’re thrilled to be a part of the project.”

Bend entrepreneur Ron Fritz, one of the OK members who agreed to volunteer his time and expertise for HDESD’s i4 pitch panel described his experience as inspirational. Fritz is founder and CEO of Tech Soft 3D, an international technology and software development company based in Bend.

“I was inspired by the passion of the presenters, as well as their courage to go in front of a panel to get feedback. It’s not easy to put yourself out there, which simply illustrates how committed they are to their respective projects,” said Fritz. “While I knew that the educators presenting might not be experts in gaining momentum and funding for their ideas, they were clearly experts in their fields of education and child development. I felt the panel was able to offer quite a bit of useful feedback and the presenters were extremely open and eager for the input. I left feeling that we had really added some value for these people and they seemed to feel the same.”

According to Fritz, the pitch workshop provided him with an opportunity to apply his business and marketing skills in a small way that contributes to making education better for the children of Central Oregon.

“I believe that improving education is one of our biggest priorities in America and I believe it won’t improve simply by more funding,” said Fritz. “It will improve by allowing motivated people to experiment, innovate, measure results and spread what works. That’s why I got involved.”

Higgins says the partnership between HDESD and OK has been invaluable.

“To stay on the leading edge as an Education Service District, we are exploring tangible ways to create a culture and environment conducive to igniting, investigating, innovating and incubating good ideas. A culture where we are continually asking ourselves how we can increase excellence, equity and efficiency for children and youth,” said Higgins. ““Opportunity Knocks has been an incredible resource and community partner to us. These entrepreneurs are showing up to give back to our communities and to support education. The pitch workshops have been so powerful.”

For more information about the HDESD i4 process, contact Anna Higgins at anna.higgins@hdesd.org.

About The High Desert Education Service District
The High Desert Education Service District (HDESD) is a regional support system that links school districts in Central Oregon to state and national education resources. Our programs help districts minimize duplication of services, preserve their local budgets and receive special programs that might otherwise be unavailable to them.

About Opportunity Knocks
Opportunity Knocks (OK) is a 501 (c) 6 membership supported nonprofit organization that serves the Central Oregon community. OK members are matched with a trusted, local, facilitated group of peers who, in effect, become each other’s Board of Advisors. The OK member’s Board of Advisors team provides expertise and insight to help drive professional, personal and business growth.

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