Learning through Profit and Loss: Entrepreneurship at George School

Heather Mooney teaches the new Entrepreneurship course that was made possible by the Signature Academic Program implemented this year. Heather is excited to teach a hands-on course that gives students an opportunity to put theory into practice by starting their own businesses.

Prior to George School, Heather taught economics internationally in Vietnam and Panama. “Both countries have strong business and startup communities,” said Heather. “In Panama, we had an entrepreneurship innovation certificate program, where students could enter a special track and focus on entrepreneurship. I was peripherally involved in the business competition each year.”

“Students always loved the competition, which engaged them with hands-on experiences, and applied much of the theory they learned with practical skills,” continued Heather. “The launch of the Signature Academic Program at George School created space for me to offer this class. Through the entrepreneurship course, I saw an opportunity to engage students to take the skills they learn in a classroom and apply them in real-time with a project,” said Heather. “I want students to focus on creating value by adding to something existing or by coming up with something new. The students quickly realized how hard it is to create value and came to understand why 90 percent of startups fail.”

Heather is the type of teacher who has a plan for each lesson that contributes to her overall course goals. “Sometimes, the students pivot by taking the class in an unexpected but exciting direction, usually one that is way too great to pass up. Having taught for a very long time helps me embrace the unexpected opportunities for learning. This is the case with entrepreneurship—ideas are opportunities, so my classroom must be flexible, dynamic, and responsive to what students are generating. Sometimes, it is about allowing students to take control of their learning and run with ideas and concepts. Other times, it is about helping them by reexamining concepts and theories to focus back on the topics that will help them move forward in their learning. I think it is the responsive and dynamic nature of this course that is the cornerstone to my classroom.”

“When my students present their pop-up market, they go through the business model canvas, create a problem statement and value proposition, analyze their customer segments, and complete customer discovery. Once that is completed, the George School Business Office awards the students $500 to fund their pop-up. The first $200 is interest free but they incur interest on the second $300. Before their funding is secured, they need to pitch their idea. They make a slide deck, work on the storytelling aspects of the pitch, and make sure their value proposition is strong. They also prepare cash flow statements and project startup costs in Microsoft Excel.”

“The students take it very seriously,” said Heather. “Most of them dress up in their suits or wear something that is indicative of their product. This part teaches them presentation skills but in a real-world application.”

“The objective of the course is not to make a profit; it is to learn,” explained Heather. “I tell my students, ‘Your pop-up might be a complete failure, but if you can pinpoint the problem and identify what you need to improve upon, then you have actually learned.’ Reflection is not just a description of what you did, it is how you are going to improve. What worked well and why? What did not work well and why? If the pop-up is successful, I ask them different questions. How would you scale this business? Were there other opportunities along the way that presented themselves? How did you pivot to meet those opportunities? The students sometimes get fixated on profit, but this course is all about asking students what they learned and teaching them to convey that learning to me in the end.”

“Some of my student groups have decided to take pre-orders as a way of surveying their prospective market,” said Heather. “That will give them the opportunity to determine demand and adjust their product supply based on data they can collect. Some student groups have done extremely well with presale and have learned the concept of profit reinvestment without even realizing it. Each group is proceeding at different stages—one group even asked me if they could take their profits and reinvest it in a different group. I was not anticipating that, and the students started negotiating interest rates, which was an interesting outcome.”

Entrepreneurship is a ten-week course at George School and is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. In the first five weeks, the students learn theory, such as idea versus opportunity, startup versus small business, what the business model canvas is and each segment within it, and customer discovery. They also perform three types of self-assessment to figure out their strengths and talk about building a team of complementing strengths.

Due to the high level of interest in continuing to learn about entrepreneurship, Heather is working to create an independent course that will run over a longer period. “Students will meet with me once a week to check in and set goals as they develop their ideas,” explained Heather. “They would need to have a product or idea in mind and have some preliminary framework setup. We would then look to partner students with outside members of the community who work in the same industry to help mentor them.”

“Thanks to the generosity of a donor, we were able to create an entrepreneurship bank at George School,” continued Heather. “Profitable groups contribute back to the bank so that we can support the groups who operate at a loss. This gives students the agency to build the future of the entrepreneurship program at George School.”

“Teaching this course has helped me learn so many new things,” said Heather. “As I reflect on my own teaching, my goal is to make my students feel valued and help them reach their fullest potential.”