Reading, Writing, Entrepreneurship? UVA Author Could Help Change Curricula

June 7, 2023 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

A stop at the local market on a Tuesday afternoon left Angela Stokes with her hands full. In one arm, she carried a carton of eggs and a fresh blueberry muffin. In the other arm, she had a new notebook with a custom cover design and a painted tree log ornament.

Stokes departed as a satisfied customer.

“What an awesome day,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is leaving this thinking this was great to do just once. It’s more of, ‘What can we do next?’”

Stokes is the principal at Stone-Robinson Elementary School in Albemarle County, where, in late May, the school’s library hosted a Founders Festival, where entrepreneurial students showcased their ventures for shoppers.

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The display was the cumulation of Stone-Robinson’s Eagles Entrepreneurship Club, a new initiative led by Gosia Glinska, the associate director of thought leadership at the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and powered by her series of children’s books on the practice of entrepreneurship. 

Stokes was approached in March by a couple of innovative students who had creations they wanted to sell on the playground. Simultaneously, Stokes was in discussion with Glinska on the possibility of presenting her picture book series – called “Mia & Tiago” and based upon research conducted by Darden professor Saras Sarasvathy – to the school.

The timing aligned and the Eagles Entrepreneurship Club, a six-week course that teaches students how to think, act and make decisions like expert entrepreneurs, was formed. The club’s ensuing success, combined with the changing nature of the workforce (thanks to the advancement of artificial intelligence), has Stokes convinced that entrepreneurship could one day be part of a school’s curriculum, alongside traditional subjects like math and science.

“I don’t know why it isn’t,” she said. “I think if we’ve learned anything from this experience, it absolutely should be. It is not a tricky thing to align with the rest of the curriculum. It’s almost like a direct application of everything that they’ve learned.

“They’re having to use their literacy, their comprehension skills; they’re having to problem-solve ... The list goes on and on. They’re taking everything they’re learning here and applying it to the world.”

A big part of Glinska’s role with the Batten Institute is to take academic research conducted by Darden faculty members and translate it into actionable insights that business leaders can use to be more effective at their jobs.

Young student makes a sale
A Stone-Robinson first-grade student makes a sale at his “Zeus’s Farm Fresh Eggs” stand at the Founders Festival. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

With the “Mia & Tiago” series, a project she began during the pandemic in 2020, Glinska has taken Sarasvathy’s theory of effectuation – the logic of thinking used by expert entrepreneurs to start new ventures – and has made it accessible for a much younger audience of potential future founders and business leaders.

So far, the series consists of three books, available on amazon.com, each taking a playful view of Sarasvathy’s principles of entrepreneurship through the adventures of two main characters, Mia and Tiago.

In the first book, “Mia & Tiago and the Bird-in-Hand Principle,” released last April, the young friends seek ways to win the entrepreneurship contest at their school. They’re eventually taught, by a friendly eagle named Edison, about the value of first looking at what you have and identifying the resources that are readily available through the real-life example of a Ghana-based shoe business, Kolikowear, that did the same.

“Professor Sarasvathy calls starting with what you have – who you are, what you know and whom you know – the ‘bird-in-hand principle,’ based on the proverb, ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,’” Glinska said.

“When you ask yourself, ‘What can I do now with my bird-in-hand?’ you don’t have to wait for that mythical great idea to pop into your head. Another advantage of starting with what’s already within your control is that you can start right away.”

That line of thinking resonated with Evelyn Mallory, a third-grader at Stone-Robinson and member of the Eagles Entrepreneurship Club, who sold $2 painted turkey feathers and $3 tree log ornaments at her “Art Co.” stand at the Founders Festival.

Display of student stand

“Sweets and Treats” was one of the many venture stands at the Founders Festival inside Stone-Robinson’s library. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

Both products were created off her family’s property.

Asked for her biggest takeaways from Glinska’s guidance, Mallory, 9, said, “That you learn from your mistakes, and that it’s good to keep trying, and to use what you already have.”

Glinska was a proud consumer at the Founders Festival, checking out the various ventures, from Mallory’s arts and crafts to a first-grader’s “Zeus’s Farm Fresh Eggs” to a third-grader’s “Big Foot Smoothies.” One student named Parker displayed a dog care service with the slogan, “Happy dogs do happy things!!”

“These kids, they’re real entrepreneurs!” said Glinska, who had 15 students in her club. “They’re learning how to start new ventures and they are already creating products and services. And just seeing that, it’s really pretty amazing to me.”

The festival was part of what Glinska imagined for the impact of the “Mia & Tiago” series in schools. It’s an extension of Sarasvathy’s long-held belief that entrepreneurship has a place in academic curricula.

student making a sale
Many of the Founders Festival stands, like this juice station, offered food or drink. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“For years, I have been telling people that we should teach entrepreneurship the way we teach science,” Sarasvathy told The Darden Report last fall. “Imagine if science was only taught to the potential scientists – we would never get to the 20th century. So why are we teaching entrepreneurship only to the future entrepreneurs?”

Glinska, who received her master’s degree in fiction writing from UVA, said she’s passionate about the opportunity to let young children know they can become entrepreneurs.

“There are a lot of myths out there that entrepreneurs are born, like Steve Jobs,” Glinska said. “And professor Sarasvathy has proven that that’s not the case. Entrepreneurs are made. You can learn to be an entrepreneur. And because we have this highly effective methodology of teaching entrepreneurship developed by professor Sarasvathy based on her decades-long study of expert entrepreneurs, it would be a waste not to use it to teach kids.”

Glinska smiled at the Founders Festival scene, optimistic that this could become the norm at elementary schools. Stokes, the principal, agreed.

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“We read a book recently that talked about how we’re educating students for a future where we have no idea what the job market is going to look like,” Stokes said. “But we can think about really building their creativity and giving them opportunities to be creative, because that’s going to be a skill that’s going to follow no matter what the future holds.

“And I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway of this Founders Festival. It’s that there’s just creativity at every step of the path.”

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications