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Pilot 'Incubator School' to Launch in L.A. for Future Entrepreneurs

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Like a true entrepreneur, Sujata Bhatt—founder and lead teacher at the newly formed The Incubator School in Los Angeles—is going full blast this week before launching her enterprise on August 13.

Her top priorities as she prepares to open the public middle school devoted to entrepreneurism are hiring another teacher, recruiting more students, and making final preparations for "Inc.," as the school has been dubbed, she said today.

The pilot, boosted by a recently announced $100,000 Next Generation Learning Challenges Breakthrough Schools grant, will open with 6th and 7th graders this year.

With a mission to "foster, network, and launch the entrepreneurial teams of tomorrow," the school plans to eventually promote entrepreneurship for 6th through 12th grades. Eighth graders will create an operating business within the school and high school will culminate in students teaming up to launch a real-world startup company.

Entrepreneurship seems to be a strong motivation for kids today. Last year, a Gallup survey showed that 43 percent of students polled said they wanted to start their own businesses.

Like many startups, The Incubator School itself faced external challenges before preparing to open its doors, when the school board dropped the original plan to locate Inc. in Venice High School after some stakeholders there raised concerns about housing it. A temporary "home" was found in mid-June on the campus of Playa Vista Elementary School, leaving Bhatt—an 11-year-veteran and national board-certified teacher—to scramble with the launch.

"I really believe schools—instead of fighting the outside forces that are changing the world—need to embrace them, bring them in, and give students access to them," she said in a phone interview yesterday.

It was one summer while Bhatt was education advisor for Outthink, Inc., a startup in a Brooklyn, N.Y., incubator space, that she conceived of the school. "I was working with kids who were 22 and on their second or third startup. I saw the age was being pushed down, and I thought of my 4th graders," she said. The project that engaged them more than any other was running their own business making "candy-grams," Bhatt recalled.

The Incubator School's education model will emphasize inquiry and problem-solving and involve students in project-based learning. Bhatt said the goal is to have a population of children from mixed-income backgrounds, with half from low-income homes, and the remainder from middle- or higher-income homes.

Each student attending Inc. will receive an HP laptop, and—when Los Angeles Unified distributes iPads in April—the Inc. students will receive those devices as well, Bhatt said. "It makes sense in the 21st-century economy for kids to be able to work in both. We'll use Google Apps, and they'll be working in the cloud all the time," she said.

Future is Now, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that develops innovative schools, was the grantee for The Incubator School's Next Generation Learning Challenges grant. "This is a great endorsement of teacher-led innovation. "Our goal is to collaborate with LAUSD to create innovative pilot schools, like the Incubator school, which give parents more options and helps close the achievement gap among our students," said Steve Barr, the organization's founder, in a release about the grant.

Follow @EdWeekMMolnar and @EdWeekIandI for the latest news on industry and innovation in education.

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