Why Entrepreneurship for K-12 Matters

by Aug 6, 2021

Crossposted from the Herald-Times, this is Executive Director Pat East’s regular column.

K-12 programming is one of the pillars at The Mill. We want entrepreneurship to become a dinner table topic.

We focus on it for two reasons. First, while we can plant the seeds now, they take a long time to mature and for our community to see the compounding effects of new businesses. Second, even if you don’t want to start a business, you can learn the traits of entrepreneurs and use them to propel your career.


Traits of Entrepreneurs

  • Leadership
  • Optimism
  • Self-discipline
  • Open-mindedness
  • Competitive spirit
  • Self-motivation
  • Willingness to fail
  • Innovation
  • Tenacity
  • Flexibility
  • Ingenuity
  • Action bias

In other words, entrepreneurship isn’t just for starting a business but for developing the traits that will lead to a fulfilling career, even if you don’t want to start a business.

A few years ago, I listened to a panel at Kinetic, the annual entrepreneurship conference produced by Elevate Ventures, the state’s venture capital arm. Scott Fadness, the Mayor of Fishers, was asked what they would do differently in Fishers, even after all of their economic development success. Without a pause, he immediately said, “Start K-12 programming sooner.” We’ve taken that call to action to heart and have developed several programs to make entrepreneurship a dinner table topic.

Two of our staff at The Mill, Melissa Ward (Head of Initiatives and Partnerships) and Andy Lehman (Head of Accelerator Programming, run our K-12 programming. I’ve asked them to write about their respective programs.

K-12 Entrepreneurial Programs

Lemonade Day Monroe County, led by the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington, is more than just lemonade stands! This free, experiential program teaches kids from across Monroe County how to plan and run their own businesses. The Mill has supported Lemonade Day for the past 3 years with increasing involvement. This year we ran a Find Your Twist activity table at Lemonade Day University and hosted the Lemonade Day Pitch Competition in our Event Hall.

The Academy of Science and Entrepreneurship taught an INCubatoredu class this past year. Far from a normal class, these high school students built REAL businesses with coaching from The Mill’s members, partners, and other businesses. The students created detailed business plans and competed in pitch competitions. Then the winning team went on to compete at the state-wide Innovate WithIN pitch night.

The Mill was MCCSC’s community sponsor for the 2020 4th Grade Maker Challenge, and we couldn’t have had more fun! Even though the program was completely virtual, 11 Mill members and staff volunteered their time to meet with every MCCSC elementary school’s 4th graders. Students designed an invention to improve the lives of the people in Bloomington during a pandemic and showed off their prototype using a stop-motion video. We were so impressed with their innovative ideas!

Edgewood High School plans to open a student-run coffee shop next year. Rather than leave the planning to the adults, the students were in charge of writing the business plan, considering everything from operations to marketing. The Mill recruited several small business owners from across the community to mentor the student groups. The partnership was a success! The EHS will open their coffee shop this fall.

The Mill partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington and Ellettsville to provide a Young Entrepreneurs Camp. Over the course of 6 weeks, 35-40 participants between the ages of 12-15 learned critical entrepreneurial skills. They learned how to identify ideal customers, understand their business and revenue opportunities, how to market their business, and how to build a pitch deck and present their idea. The program culminated in a Pitch Showcase where participants pitched their ideas to family, friends, and community leaders live at The Mill.

In February, The Mill and The Chamber hosted a High School Pitch Showcase. Based on the success of that event, The Mill and The Chamber are excited to continue working with entrepreneurial high school students in the 2021-2022 academic year. Teams of students from all 4 Monroe County high schools will spend 6 weeks problem solving a selected community issue. With the help of professional mentors and entrepreneurial training, students will develop a for-profit business idea and pitch it to community leaders and business owners.


We also sit on the MCCSC Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee. Led by Dr. Markay Winston, they’re infusing more entrepreneurship into their curriculum. Along with folks from IU Ventures and the Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, we’re supporting those efforts and giving advice and guidance where we can.

While we have programs for MCCSC and RBB, if you’re a teacher or administrator and want to get your students involved, please pat@dimensionmill.org, and we’ll connect.