Real World Scholars is a non-profit that works to create authentic learning experiences in classrooms by integrating entrepreneurship into standard curriculum.
How did Real World Scholars start?
My partner, John K. Cahalin, started this project about 2 or 3 years ago. He is a chronic entrepreneur and philanthropist. He moved to San Diego and was looking for entrepreneurial opportunities for his own kids and even at the best school in San Diego, they had no exposure to entrepreneurship on campus. It set him on a hunt for entrepreneurial educational opportunities in general. He found that when school did have courses, they were textbook-oriented or theoretical. Or schools would have ‘pitch fests’ where students would have to come up with a business idea and pitch it to a panel of businessmen who would then choose the best one. The students were only developing an idea for a business, and not actually learning how to run one. Entrepreneurship is all about doing, actually creating something, and not just ideating. We wanted to bridge that gap.
John wanted to take his money and put it in the hands of students to practice entrepreneurship. So in March of 2014 we issued a press release stating, “We have $250,000 to give to teachers who want to do entrepreneurship in their classroom. Call us.” We only received one call. It blew us away how little traction this got, so we knew we had to do a lot more research to get this going.
In talking to teachers, we discovered that they didn’t care about entrepreneurial studies or business skills; they cared about real world experiences for their kids. They cared about their kids being engaged in their classes and taking ownership of their work. So we decided to change our approach and focus on the entrepreneurial mindset as a driver for our program and not the subject of entrepreneurship itself.
We created a tech platform that every class can use to start their own businesses, and not for the purposes of learning about business, but for the purpose of learning all the other skills that come along the process. We want students to experience what it takes to bring an idea to life. Students learn how to execute on projects, articulate themselves, and learn how to work with other people like they would in the real world. We equip classrooms with the technology, funding, and the legal umbrella needed to run their own businesses out of their classrooms.
What grades do you primarily work with?
We work with grades K-12, and surprisingly one of our most successful classes is a first grade class in rural Georgia. This particular class’ teacher has effectively integrated the course into her entire curriculum and it has revolutionized her classroom. Their initial goal was to sell 62 units of their product, sugar scrubs, to break even on their funding; every class receives between $1,000 and $2,500 for the school year. They ended up selling 1,600 units to people all around the world and have reached $16,000 in sales in less than 4 months of starting the course.
This process has also allowed her students to come out of their shells and connect in the classroom. They are energized because they are finding their place in the business and playing upon their natural skills. What we have seen is that these first graders, and many of our younger classes, is that they are more confident and creative because they have yet to think that they ‘can’t’ do something – so they will try just about anything. At the same time, because the classes will continue to get money every year and the focus is not so much on the sale, students are also taught to accept failure and to learn from their mistakes.
What challenges are you working to overcome in 2016?
The biggest challenge that we have uncovered over the past 6 months is that teachers value a personal connection. Our team works closely with each teacher to support them as they build their Education Corporation (EdCorp) so that they feel more confident integrating commerce into their classroom. We have some teachers that are really hands off and just want a structure that they can implement on their own, but then we also have other teachers who want to work more closely with us. Whether we need to connect over the phone or by email, there is a lot of contact needed between our team and the teachers. We are still in process of figuring out how to scale this support. Our team has been growing to accommodate this demand and to find out what form of support will work best for most teachers.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
It has been an achievement to be able to put these kids in the driver’s seat of their own futures and to see how this process has led to them recognizing needs in their community.
The money the classes earn can be used for anything they want; a class party, materials, or it can be donated back to a 501c3 Non-Profit they care about. For example, the class who makes sugar scrubs does a ton of philanthropic giving. They wanted all their money to go to their local community so they gave $250 to a local food pantry. In response to their donation, they got a grant from the Jane Goodall foundation and then Sam’s Club threw in another $800. Before you know it, they were donating about $1250 in food to the food pantry, which meant truckloads of food given to struggling families in their community. The food pantry said it was the biggest donation they had ever received and that it stocked the pantry for 6 months. One of the 6-year-old students asked, “So what happens when the food runs out?” which shows us that they are thinking beyond the scope of their classroom or this project. We have seen that this program has not only made students realize their own potential but it has also developed a chain reaction that impacts the world they live in.
Why is coworking a good fit for Real World Scholars?
Our company is technically a start-up right now and it’s ironic because we are also teaching kids how to start their own companies. By working in a coworking space, we are able to practice what we preach. We teach students to create and problem solve by communicating with different people and we have to push ourselves to do the same. It’s comfortable to talk to the same couple of people everyday but it doesn’t help you to be innovative and diversify your thoughts, both of which we need that in our line of work. Coworking helps to maintain momentum, creativity, and also allows you to receive feedback on your ideas and avoid getting stuck. It was really important for our team to find an easy and natural way to be apart of the technologically innovative community in San Diego.
Why did you choose DeskHub?
DeskHub seemed to be the best fit for us as far as coworking spaces in San Diego go. I hadn’t done a ton of shopping but the other coworking spaces I did see seemed a bit sterile. I liked that DeskHub seemed very collaborative from the start. When Monique gave me my first tour, we must have stopped to say hi to at least 7 or 8 people. Every other coworking space I’d been to had almost a ‘whisper tone only’ vibe. I liked that DeskHub was really easy going, open, and inviting. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s located next to some of the best food in San Diego.
What’s your favorite brewery in San Diego?
North Park has a lot of breweries, and I have about 9 that are walking distance from my house. I really like Fall Brewing Company as well as Thorn Street Brewery, which is really small and in my neighborhood.
What’s your best-hidden secret in San Diego?
Cantina Mayahuel in Normal Heights is THE BEST restaurant (and Mezcal selection) in San Diego. It’s great because it’s not your typical Mexican food restaurant that you find on almost every corner in San Diego; it’s actually authentic South American, and a very refreshing alternative.