By Laura Gossman

Editor’s Note: Over this past year, we have featured most of the Praxis Fellows and their start-ups. Praxis is now doing a new start-up of their own called Praxis Academy, a week-long intensive program for select undergraduates or recent graduates, from around the country, that will provide participants with the vision, knowledge, relationships and opportunities needed to begin a career of entrepreneurship in business and non-profits alike. In a recent interview with the Director, Jon Hart, he shares why Praxis is venturing into this new enterprise and how some of the challenging complexities are shaping the launch this summer.

Entrepreneurship has skyrocketed to the height of many young people’s career aspirations-replacing the traditional Doctor-Lawyer-Teacher-Businessperson. Age-old systems, companies and institutions are being challenged and disrupted by innovative, nimble, startups. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 54% of Millennials have either started, want to start, or want to work for a start-up. This is the entrepreneurial generation that wants to create. Their version of a protest is creating a start-up that disrupts whatever system, business or institution they don’t like.

Meanwhile, we live in a world that is deeply broken. As followers of Christ, we look at ‘what is,’ and are challenged to engage our hearts, minds and talents in service of joining God as He restores His creation back to ‘what should be’.

Jon states, “We believe this presents an unprecedented opportunity for Christ-following entrepreneurs to create ventures that operate at the intersection of heart and excellence, and point people toward the gospel. We know entrepreneurship is a difficult journey, and it takes a robust support system, and both a philosophical and practical theology to make it all work together. We realized most college students don’t have a vision for entrepreneurship in this way, and those that do, don’t have exposure to practitioners who can mentor them on how to actually do it.”

Mentoring with Praxis Fellows in 2013.

Mentoring with Praxis Fellows in 2013.

As a result of this gap, Praxis announced the launch of Praxis Academy – a venture intent on shaping the next generation of entrepreneurs who are currently in, or recent graduates of, an undergraduate college program. Their first event will be held August 4-8, on the campus of Gordon College just north of Boston, where they will bring students from across the country together, along with entrepreneurs and cultural thinkers to discuss entrepreneurship, faith and culture.

The campus of Gordon College, located about 30 minutes north of Boston.

The campus of Gordon College, located about 30 minutes north of Boston.

One of the biggest challenges in launching Praxis Academy is that they are entering a completely new market with college students who don’t know Praxis or what they do. Student awareness and narrowing down exactly what they want students to get out of Praxis Academy have been hurdles they’ve had to address.  In addition, Jon and his team have had to design an experience without knowing exactly how many students will apply. However, Jon couldn’t be more grateful for the support from their existing community of mentors, advisors and fellows.

One of the ways they have dealt with student awareness is by being extremely relational and connecting in person as opposed to bombarding them with advertising messages. This is tough to do with a small team, given that there are thousands of colleges and universities across the country. They also want to make sure this opportunity reaches beyond just students in a traditional business program. They want artists, educators, programmers, and engineers — students across all majors to come to Praxis Academy and learn to think with an entrepreneurial mindset. All of these different skills can be serviced to create the next wave of innovative companies and nonprofits. This has affected how they design the program, communications, and which speakers and mentors they are scheduling.

Praxis Academy will select applicants who are currently in an undergraduate program or recently graduated.

Praxis Academy will select applicants who are currently in an undergraduate program or recently graduated.

As a result of some of these challenges, some of the shape and form of the original Praxis Academy dream has changed. Since they don’t have the capacity to visit the hundreds of colleges they would like to, and there are thousands of students out there who could be great candidates for Praxis Academy, they decided to create a Cohort Partnership program within Praxis Academy. This would also address their desire to create a learning experience that goes beyond just a five-day summer program.

“Entrepreneurs need great support systems, and we believe having a point person who helps find a Cohort of ten to twenty students who are highly interested in this, and then having that group not only attend Praxis Academy together, but continue to meet throughout the school year will prove very beneficial. This helps us also build long-term relationships with the schools so we can support what they are already doing in the classroom with students. Since this model has evolved and gained wide-spread support from some leading schools, we’ve actually re-designed part of the summer experience to better support these Cohorts,” shared Jon.

Praxis Fellows during the 2013 Finale in Los Angeles.

Praxis Fellows during the 2013 Finale in Los Angeles.

Finally, to overcome the hurdle for students who aren’t traditional business majors, or don’t think they are ‘entrepreneurs’ they have really focused on building partnerships across different parts of the school. At Azusa Pacific University, for example, they met with faculty from the Media, Theology, Leadership, Psychology and Business departments, and with President Jon Wallace. APU has faculty across the campus that see the need for Praxis Academy, and want to find their top student leaders across the entire school to apply for Praxis Academy. Because students in Praxis Academy will come from multiple disciplines, this has shaped the type of speakers and cultural thinkers they have chosen to mentor at the summer event so that all the students have a great experience.

As the Praxis team continues to mentor start-up entrepreneurs as fellows in the non-profit and for-profit sectors, they too are practicing what they preach year round through leaning into their own advisors, and creating feedback loops from future recipients and partners that, in turn, will shape the launch of Praxis Academy. In essence, as they lead others, they are also equal co-learners in their own entrepreneurship.

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

Comments are closed.