Sparking Youths’ Skills with Entrepreneurship and Creativity Programs

Linzy Novotny

The merging of creativity and business is vital to product development—taking an idea and transforming it into a tangible object that is available to consumers. But how does someone get from one point to the other? More importantly, how can our youth become involved in the process and apply these skills as they emerge into adulthood?

MindSpark, a nonprofit organization located in Denver, Colo., is here to help.

Nvate MindSpark Maia Stone Tinkering Summer Camp Entrepreneurship

“Emerging from a group of 24 professionals, with backgrounds in real estate and development, hospitality, telecom, design, and more, MindSpark had a purpose to encourage innovative thinking,” Maia Stone, executive director of the organization, said.

“MindSpark has always been about exploration and exposure, she continued. “The group participated in a series of excursions, carefully crafted and organized to ignite that moment when two synapses connect and fire new reality throughout the brain—a MindSpark.”

“Members have all been active participants in creating positive change for our city, and while MindSpark has had significant influence on the lives of its members, it remained about experience, more than the outcome,” Stone said.

Over time, the organization evolved into an online presence and now offers programs for youth.

MindSpark Programs: Learn to Tinker and Conduct a Market Analysis

MindSpark offers two programs that help Colorado’s youth to realize their full potential. The programs—tinkering with tools and entrepreneurship—prepare youth for the 21st century, according to the organization’s website. These skills include ability, creativity, finance and literacy to problem solving, motivation, technology and innovation, to name a few.

“Our youth need opportunities to explore their unique capabilities and interests, and be inspired to visualize those qualities as an integral function in their futures. Because I love my work, I wake up each day excited and ready to accomplish my goals,” Stone said. “When this happens, you live a wonderful blur between work and life.”

The tinkering with tools program teaches children basic engineering skills as they learn basic woodworking and sewing skills, according to the MindSpark website.

Nvate MindSpark Maia Stone Tinkering Summer Camp Entrepreneurship

Youth got the chance to tinker with playdough and electricity. Credit: MindSpark

“I learned how not to give up and how to keep trying on what you started, to try to work on new things and harder things, [and] to try stuff that we never work on so we know what to do when we get older,” one participant in the program said as stated on the website.

The entrepreneur program, which is for participants in grades six through 12, is a course in strategic planning for creative entrepreneurs, according to the organization’s website.

“This is a new program which has been implemented as a one-time workshop, and is currently offered as a four to 10 week course. It’s not the place to devise new products, but an opportunity to develop a cohesive vision and plan for turning an existing idea into reality,” Stone explained. “The expansion of this program will integrate creative with business and life skills, over the course of a year, and culminate with placing kids into apprenticeships.”

The program objectives include conducting a market analysis to determine the need for the product or service, analyzing competitors to gain an understanding of the industry and designing the product’s logo, colors and font, to name a few.

Stone and MindSpark are planning more events. “We do plan to reintroduce MindSpark professional excursions and create events with the same purpose and tone.”

Tinkering Summer Camp Fuses Tinkering and Entrepreneurship

MindSpark is offering a tinkering summer camp for youth ages 11 through 15. Participants choose the path they take, with programs ranging from robotics and electronic textiles to woodworking, according to the MindSpark website. Students will face real world challenges, which include, “decision making, asking for help, working with others, bouncing back from failure, and in the end, also learning about marketing, design, and social media to present their projects to friends and family.”

“On the path to becoming an entrepreneur, it is imperative to grasp the tools and skills needed to run a business. The earlier you expose kids to the terms and concepts, the more comfortable they will be with putting those ideas into practice,” Stone said regarding the summer camp. “By learning these skills, youth develop confidence and independence, and learn to capitalize [on] opportunity. The other piece of the puzzle is teaching these skills through project-based learning, so kids are exploring real-world challenges.”

MindSpark master tinkerer Diane Gaston and Danny Gwirtsman will teach the courses, with guest educators stopping by. Gaston is a middle school teacher, whose content areas rely on technology and engineering. She was named the 2011-2012 Colorado Technology Education Teacher of the Year, which is a nationally-recognized award. Gwirtsman is “a teaching assistant who is interested in fostering a creative experience through learning,” as stated on the MindSpark website.

Two sessions of the summer camp are offered, July 8-12 and July 15-19, lasting 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on those days. The cost is $200 per session, with a limited number of scholarships available. Additional information on the children’s project choices will be on the organization’s website soon.

To register visit the MindSpark website.

The Importance of Fusing Business and Creativity

Nvate MindSpark Maia Stone Tinkering Summer Camp Entrepreneurship

Credit: winnond freedigitalphotos.net

Stone believes fusing business and creativity is important and essential. “I believe you cannot have one without the other. Wherever you lie on the continuum, your work needs to be informed by connecting logic and fact with creativity,” she said. “This is especially true if you take the entrepreneurial path. A creative company needs to possess business and financial acumen to make a profit, and a business person needs to constantly think of new ways to solve problems, communicate, and sell ideas to colleagues and consumers.”

With the youth programs and summer camps, children and teenagers are learning how important this connection is.

Having a background in photography and hospitality, it wasn’t until years after starting her career in hospitality that Stone found her true passion in life.

“I went to school for photography, but only learned creative technique. I wasn’t taught anything practical enabling me to make a living as an artist. As a result, I ended up working in hospitality for the next 10 years,” Stone explained.

“Ultimately realizing this was not the path for me, and discovering my goal-oriented self, I tackled one challenge after the next—an MBA, master’s in taxation, and then became a CPA,” she continued. “Through this experience, I not only realized that I wanted to help kids find their own road to happiness quicker than I had, but also that entrepreneurship not only means starting a business or developing a product, but with hard work and determination, you can design your own life.”

To learn more about MindSpark and the programs they offer visit the MindSpark website.

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