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Audacious Institute Shapes Teens to Be Bold Entrepreneurs

by Kristyn Back

21st-century teens eat, sleep, and breathe technology. Long gone are the simple days of Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, telephones connected by cords, and single-computer households. And while our world is moving at cyber speed towards innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology, schools aren’t always keeping pace with the skills needed to thrive.

To create clear direction and better opportunity for today’s youth, Lindsey Mangone and Eric Jacobsen joined forces to launch the Audacious Institute (AI). The Audacious Institute is research-based curriculum rooted in design thinking, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Since its founding in 2014, the institute has served 600 students and expanded their Atlanta-based model as far as Cuba.

Hear from Mangone on how her bold quest is equipped to advance the minds and mastery of our emerging youth.

Tell us about the Audacious Institute:

The Audacious Institute is a bold opportunity for young people to develop the 21st-century skills and mindset needed for jobs of the future. This is done through a one-week startup camp, which uses a rigorous curriculum grounded in design thinking, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Founded in 2014, over 600 students have participated in the Audacious Institute (formerly known as Innovation in Action). The curriculum was developed based on cutting-edge research from Duke University’s Center on the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, and the Lean Startup methodology.

What problem are you solving?

Today, middle school and high school curriculum is focused on common core and often lacks exposure to and teaching of 21st century skills, like critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, innovation and entrepreneurship. Rarely do students get the opportunity to solve real-world problems. The Audacious Institute fills this gap through its weekend and weeklong programs.

Describe the curriculum targeted for 6th-12th graders:

At a high level, we help students identify a real world problem and launch a company to solve it, all in one week. To do this, AI uses project-based learning and real-world problems to teach design thinking, innovation, the lean startup, and the business model canvas. In our one-week summer programs, students will identify a problem they are passionate about solving, interview people who have experienced the problem, validate the market, prototype a solution, build a business model, and pitch to investors and entrepreneurs “Shark Tank” style.

What’s the market/industry impact of the Audacious Institute? 

We have impacted more than 600 students in the Southeast, Northeast, and as far west as Santa Barbara, California. We continue to expand our reach through partnerships with organizations like Rustic Pathways, which enables our students to explore design thinking and innovation in emerging markets like Cuba. Our students have gone on to win awards, like the Verizon Innovative App Challenge and pursue gap years that leverage the skills and experiences they developed through our programs.

How’d you get the idea for it?

In middle school, I had no idea what I wanted to do and longed for a program that combined career exploration, mentorship, and passion projects. Later, while at Duke, I worked with a team of MBA students on a project with nonprofit and vocational training program in Jaipur, India. This inspired me to start the Audacious Institute to connect middle and high school students with real-world projects and entrepreneurial mentors to open students’ eyes to 21st-century careers and ignite a spirit of change-making and entrepreneurship.

Additionally, a trip to Peru inspired Eric to start the Audacious Institute. Entrepreneurship is ingrained in the fabric of Peruvians – not only in the form of subsistence entrepreneurship but also, in a new wave of passion- and purpose-driven entrepreneurship. After completing a fellowship at Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative, Eric and Lindsey joined forces to start the Audacious Institute.

What are you hoping to accomplish?

We aim to develop creative problem solvers and fearless innovators who have the mindset and skillset to boldly challenge the status quo and collaborate to solve the world’s biggest problems.

According to a 2014 study by McKinsey & Company, only 35% of employers believe teens are work-ready. The vast majority of employers say college graduates are unprepared for “applying knowledge in real-world settings, critical thinking, and communication skills” and 62% of teens agree they’re unprepared for 21st-century jobs.

The Audacious Institute is on a mission to inspire youth to develop these 21st-century skills now, before college, to make the most of their college years and prepare for 21st-century jobs. We want our students to have limitless opportunities to pursue meaningful careers. This starts with helping them understand the intersection of their passions, their strengths, and marketplace needs, as well as arming them with the mindset and skillset to pursue their ambitions.

Who are your competitors and how do you stand out?

A small number of private schools and a rare breed of public schools are beginning to teach design thinking, which we couldn’t be more excited about.We’re also seeing a rise in the number of coding camps and junior business academies. We differ from these programs in how we focus on the entrepreneurial mindset, how we couple design thinking with the Lean Startup methodology to teach innovation, and how we engage students in authentic, real-world projects.

Our curriculum for middle and high school students is used at a collegiate level as well as in the boardroom. Our real-world projects, often in partnership with local and global organizations, educate our students through hands-on experiential learning approaches that emphasize 21st-century skills, including critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, and entrepreneurship. For example, we partnered with Mohawk Industries, a $12 billion global corporation based in Calhoun, Georgia, to host a Robotics & Innovation Challenge with students from four public and private schools across Metro Atlanta. With support from Mohawk’s Global CIO, we taught design thinking and scrum to multiple teams of robotics students to help them solve an actual robotics challenge Mohawk Industries faces, for which a solution does not yet exist. We’ve partnered with other companies like Coca-Cola, Hi-Rez Studios, and the Global Center for Medical Innovation to provide students with authentic, real-world projects that build confidence and agency.

How is Atlanta a part of your story?

The Audacious Institute is headquartered in Atlanta, and we’ve had the great privilege of partnering with some of Atlanta’s finest organizations, including Atlanta Tech Village, The Iron Yard, Venture Atlanta, Clark Atlanta University, Chick-fil-A, The Coca-Cola Company, Strongbox West, and Mohawk Industries. We’ve also drawn inspiration from organizations like Leadership Atlanta, as Lindsey was a member of LEAD Atlanta’s Class of 2016. With Atlanta’s access to top universities, Fortune 500 companies, and a fast-growing startup ecosystem, the city is a great place to build and nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

What are some of your upcoming programs?

We have three programs coming up in June for Atlanta’s budding entrepreneurs and innovators. In each program, students will collaborate with a small team of peers to learn design thinking and Lean Startup principles, develop and refine a solution concept and business model, and present their ideas in a “Shark Tank” style pitch competition. Students will have daily access to successful entrepreneurs, executives, and change makers. Each day is packed with hands-on activities, 21st-century skill development opportunities, and team challenges to help students start planning for college and 21st-century careers.

Interested in the Audacious Institute summer programs? Check out their programs at the Chick-fil-A “Hatch” Innovation Center in Atlanta, The Audacious Summer at Duke in North Carolina, and Innovation in Auction in Cuba.

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