This blog originally was posted here:, with much appreciation and thankfulness to the folks at Innovate New Albany.


The American experiment in representative government, borne out of liberty fires set in the 1770s, organically led to the flowering of the entrepreneurial heritage that we enjoy today. Did we have business owners in the pre-Colonial era? Yes! Yet, it necessitated throwing off the yoke of British imperialism to ensure that the embers of those fires didn’t burn out.

As America grew geographically, leaders on the frontier ensured that a system of education was available to citizens who migrated west. The framework was decentralized, and, as in the case of the Northwest Ordinance, was based on a solid foundation of not requiring institutional support (“The states were to encourage education, but the Northwest Ordinance did not require states to provide public education”).

Later in the 1830s, in the magnum opus, “Democracy in America,” De Tocqueville opined:

“Americans are taught from birth that they must overcome life’s woes and impediments on their own. Social authority makes them mistrustful and anxious, and they rely upon its power only when they cannot do without it. This first becomes apparent in the schools, where children play by their own rules and punish infractions they define themselves.”

Yet history’s long tail shows us that latter generations enabled an opposite approach: a centralized system of ‘schooling’, imported from several nations steeped in the values of aristocratic Europe. By the sunset of the 1910s, it became the de facto means of ‘educating’ Americans nationwide.

This approach facilitated the rise of the industrial age and the growth of mega corporations; whereas, those who were entrepreneurial spirited usually attended the best universities (before “hire” replaced “higher” in standard curriculum design) or were self educated outside of a classroom setting.

Due to the habits & mindset that this latter approach emphasized, it’s clear that many Americans aren’t well prepared to be entrepreneurial as they exit K-12, colleges, or graduate programs. What implications does this have for American entrepreneurship in the years ahead?

Challenge #1: The current education approach is very expensive, creating too much debt.

The ROI of this conventional approach will continue to be questioned from all corners; many times, local citizens express doubt by voting down levies and bond issues; send their children to other schools (private, faith-based, etc.) rather than the public ones; or perhaps, they bypass it entirely, and home educate.

Further, remedial coursework is often necessary once some students pass from one track to the next, seeking additional credentials. This costs the institution money, which is passed on in the form of higher tuition & fees, thereby raising the price of the whole. And, many are rightfully concerned that the college/university track may be a future bubble.

Lastly, if a graduate finds him/herself in debt, often, he/she doesn’t pursue a purpose-based path, which robs Americans of another possible future innovator, perhaps the founder of the next Uber, Tesla, etc.

Challenge #2: This approach takes too long to complete: it’s time centric versus competency based.

In the former approach, predominant until the 1870s, and overtaken ~40 years later, many citizens learned what was asked of them, known as competencies, not tied to ‘x’ number of years in a classroom. Rather, they finished their studies, and went off to run family businesses, plied a trade, or grew and sold their own food on a farm.

Compulsory schooling required a set number of years, a ‘conveyor belt’. Nowadays, America finds itself with a hybrid economy, a cross between a digital/internet age & the Conceptual Age/Gig Economy. Would we not have more entrepreneurs starting and sustaining new businesses if we again had an education system based on competency and not time?

Challenge #3: Crucial business and/or life skills necessary to be successful in the 21st Century economy often aren’t taught.

Please read this blog for a deeper dive; alongside those points, many entrepreneurs will share that they learned a lot of their skills and discovered their inner talents not while in the traditional tracks (inc. graduate programs in medicine, law, and management), but on their own or from a mentor/coach.

Our economy, buffeted daily by gale force winds of global change, would benefit greatly once we muster the courage, creativity, and humility to design a holistic approach that will:

  • Recoup millions of ineffective hours spent in classrooms where competencies have already been learned.
  • Open more doors for youth and disaffected adults to be entrepreneurs by lowering debt.
  • Provide a market-tested ‘basket’ of skills for students in their schooling that will help them effectively manage their personal lives, and, ideally, a business that provides them win:win income which solves societal challenges.

Who’s ready to respond to the clarion call for bottom up, educational and entrepreneurial transformation?