Dan Schmitt believes a revolution is coming.
And he thinks the launching point is in Southwest Florida with a group of high school students he teaches at Seacrest County Day School in East Naples.
For Schmitt, entrepreneurship is the future catalyst for education reform. As a successful entrepreneur himself, Schmitt sold his medical company Advanced Business Fulfillment, to WebMD for $260 million last year.
His next venture is to create an army of next-generation entrepreneurs by giving them the tools for success before they leave high school.
"It's the idea of save the entrepreneur, save the world," Schmitt said.
"Startups are the sole driver of jobs in this country. Big firms in the last 20 years have lost jobs. Invention is at an all-time high, yet investments in startups are at an all-time low, and big surprise, our economy is struggling."
Schmitt's approach to the first-year "experimental entrepreneurship class" at Seacrest, 7100 Davis Blvd., was to break away from textbooks and tests and to instead implement independent and collaborative projects that prepare the students for the real world.
He also brought in entrepreneurial leaders and business CEOs to speak to the class.
"What we've found is that when you get the students involved in real-world experiences, they flourish," Schmitt said.
"So many people think these kids are lost, but they're not, they're bored. That's because we're still trying to cram old-school methods down their throats. It's academic regurgitation like test scoring and lectures. Kids intuitively know that has nothing to do with their future."
Ashton Canada is a sophomore in Schmitt's class. At 16 years old, he's already started his own custom video game controller business called UniqueModz, in which he provides an aftermarket service that refashions the look, feel and functionality of game controllers for the Xbox 360.
"A class like this would benefit anyone looking to be an entrepreneur. Even if you're not a kid," Canada said. "It gives you the tools to either start a business, or if you already have one, ways to improve it."
This year, the students in the class launched two real-world businesses: Seacrest Treasures, which provides marketing and assistance for the Naples Youth Basketball League, and they also designed and executed an outdoor concert for the CityFest 239 Music Festival in May. The students were tasked with calling up bands, negotiating the contracts, marketing, hiring security, staging and paying rent.
The students secured Andy Grammer as the headliner for the show. Grammer released his self-titled debut album in June 2011, and won an MTV O Music Award for most innovative video in January.
"There were a lot of challenges along the way, but once everything was put together, it turned out really nice," said Kristava Raffaldini, who helped manage the concert project.
"There were so many people that came and were so excited to be there. Even people from down the street that heard the music and came over. As a high school entrepreneurship class I think we were able to make a really big mark in Naples."
Of the seven juniors in the class, six said they now plan on starting their own businesses.
"I think what's most important is that this stuff can be applied in the real world," said Donato DiNorcia, a junior at Seacrest. "If you can master the critical thinking skills we learned in this class, you can pretty much do anything."
As part of acquiring the skills needed to launch a business, the students participated in what Schmitt calls the "four buckets" over the course of the yearlong class.
Bucket one was learning the science of the business model, where Schmitt presented the "art of the start."
"I did a study on the Inc. 500," Schmitt said. "These are the fastest-growing companies in the U.S., and none of them followed anything traditional, so I created a model that mimics those companies, and that's what I'm teaching here."
Bucket two was the "Entrepreneurial Journey," where students assessed their weaknesses and strengths.
Bucket three was the speaker's series, in which international, national and local entrepreneurs came to Seacrest to talk. Bucket four was "Real Life Learning," which was the process of creating startups like Seacrest Treasures and the concert for CityFest.
"The experience is a big part of it, and you can't learn that from a textbook," said Nico Moshetto, a Seacrest junior. "The whole class was basically a new concept, we had never really taken anything like it before. What we got was a very interesting experience and we learned a lot."
When a successful business idea is incubated and ultimately fulfilled, copycats naturally emerge, and that's exactly what Schmitt wants to happen with the concept of the class. He hopes to perfect the model at Seacrest and then take it to schools all over the country.
"In the next five years, every school is going to teach entrepreneurship. I'm very confident about that," Schmitt said. "The concern is can public schools adapt quick enough? If they can't, then I will take it exclusively to independent schools and or charter schools because they have more flexibility."
Schmitt points to Harvard University as an example that the concept of entrepreneurial education is already spreading. In 2012-13, Harvard will offer an experimental entrepreneurial class.
"It's good to know we're a year ahead of Harvard," Schmitt said. "Harvard is the No. 1 academic institution in the world, and now that they are adopting it, the flood gates are going to open everywhere."