School district establishes entrepreneur center
There are few entrepreneur centers in America devoted solely to the high school level, but Williamson County Schools will soon have one.
Plans are in place to establish a Williamson County Schools Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center in a building on Claude Yates Drive that formerly housed the Columbia State Community College-Williamson campus. CSCC vacated the property in 2017 to move to its new Williamson campus on Liberty Pike in Franklin.
Much of the vacated CSCC building is being renovated into additional classrooms for the Franklin High School campus that is located next door, which has an ever-growing student population. However, 12,000 square feet of space will be earmarked for the new entrepreneur center. Plans are for the center to open in time for the fall 2019 semester.
“It’s true that very few entrepreneur centers exist only for high school students, but this will be one,â€ says Dave Allen, Williamson County Schools executive director of middle and high schools. “The center will be open to all students but is mostly targeted toward junior and seniors at our 10 high schools throughout the district.â€
Enlisting Professional Mentors
The idea for an entrepreneurship center dates back a couple years when WCS Superintendent Mike Looney expressed the need for such a facility, to give students more of a real-life experience in how to start a business, develop products and/or provide a valuable business service.
“There are entrepreneurship and marketing classes at many of our high schools, but this will give students the opportunity to develop their ideas with actual professional mentors who will volunteer their time,â€ Allen says. “The center will also provide a risk-free environment for students, where they can plan and test their ideas without having to invest any money like they would if they were on their own.â€
Allen says when the idea for the center was being developed, a facility committee formed to plan its design, with committee members gathering ideas by visiting places like the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and The Wond’ry at Vanderbilt University.
“The design for the WCS facility is still being worked on,â€ he says. “It could possibly be a large open space for groups and individuals to work, or it could feature office spaces of different sizes and private meeting areas. However, about 4,000 square feet of the 12,000 total square feet will go toward high-tech equipment like 3-D printers, laser cutters, prototyping equipment and fabrication machines.â€
Besides a facility committee, Allen says a programming committee formed with business professionals and WCS staffers to establish an education focus for the curriculum. In addition, a public-private partnership committee gathered to tackle the issues of how to attract business-world mentors and coaches, and how to raise corporate dollars to help fund the overall effort.
“Now that we’re further along in the process, we have consolidated the three committees into one advisory committee of about 20 WCS staffers and business partners who want to give back to our community,â€ Allen says. “The momentum is starting to build.â€
nvaluable Knowledge to Gain
Allen points out that Williamson, Inc. has been helpful in this initiative by working to get the word out and getting members of the business community and school district together on the project.
“Once open, the center will operate during school hours as well as after-school and during the summer months,â€ he says. “It will be marketed to all students, but kids will need to complete an application process if they want to become part of the program.â€
Allen adds that mentors and coaches will help students in areas such as developing business plans, applying for patents, forming partnerships, building a brand, how to effectively use social media and more.
“For students serious about learning how to start a business or develop a product, this is certainly exciting for them,â€ he says. “Even if a student doesn’t launch a product or an idea, the knowledge they will receive from the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center will be invaluable for their futures.â€