NFTE Innovation Day ignites entrepreneurial spark in Dubai students

March 28, 2014  |  11 comments

By Christine Nasserghodsi
Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
GEMS Education in Dubai

GEMS Wellington International School held a NFTE Innovation Day in October 2013. We targeted students in Year 9 or Grade 8 with an interest in business and entrepreneurship, but little experience. Our intent was to give them a flavor of Business Studies and to build interest in entering the NFTE World Series of Innovation. We didn’t expect to have young app developers and business people by the end of the school year; however, through a community partnership, this is exactly the outcome we’ve experienced.

At Wellington International School, the approach to entrepreneurship is threefold, with an equal emphasis on thinking, making, and connecting with the community. We were drawn to the NFTE Innovation Day because it had the potential to engage students in all three. Students were challenged to think critically and creatively about their communities and market groups and had the chance to create and test product ideas. Throughout the day, they were scaffolded in learning new skills while creating solutions to challenges posed by companies and organizations with which they were familiar. In order to further enrich the students, we invited several of our community partners to get involved with the Innovation Day through suggesting additional challenges, speaking about their own experiences, and providing tips on components such as pitching.

The Innovation Day framework not only served to help introduce the students to Business Studies, it proved to be a launch pad for a yearlong project with lifelong implications. Shortly after the Innovation Day, we were approached by one of the mentors/judges, Kamal Hassan. Kamal is the founder of the TURN8 seed accelerator program which is designed to encourage innovative entrepreneurship worldwide, starting with Dubai. This seed accelerator program selects start-up teams with marketable ideas and supports them with funding, mentoring and training in exchange for a stake in any resulting business.

Kamal proposed that our top two Innovation Day teams join the entrepreneurs working out of the Turn 8 accelerator to develop their projects.  He met with the students and parents who excitedly agreed to commit their Thursday afternoons -- and several additional hours per week -- to complete a structured and rigorous program dedicated to helping these students build entrepreneurial skills need to turn their ideas into reality.

Kamal cautioned the students from the outset, telling them not to fall in love with their ideas, to seek and use feedback, and to expect to work hard as a team. Good ideas, he shared, are a dime a dozen but entrepreneurs are not.

Six months later, the students are still heading to the accelerator every Thursday afternoon. They have shown a tremendous level of commitment to their projects - giving up time their peers spend at the malls or the cinema to learn coding, for example. The students have had the opportunity to learn about the business world from the inside and to learn some of the steps to forming a business. They have learned to rely on one another for different skills and to reach out to others, such as developers, for additional support. The students now are in the final stages of developing minimum viable products and are beginning to speak with investors.

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