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EIC partners ask private sector to ‘mind the gap’

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For a school district, $2 million can be a daunting amount of money. 

In order for Williamson County Schools to provide a unique business education for high school students, the EIC Catalyst Network is appealing to the private sector to fill those monetary gaps. 

The Williamson County Schools Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center is up and running, actively teaching kids about start-ups and business administration through curriculum, business mentors and on-call industry experts. However, the program still needs more support. 

While WCS administrators have worked to organize this idea into a reality, the Catalyst Network played a huge role in making it happen. The network gathered in the new EIC facility to raise additional money to fully bring their plans to fruition. 

The Catalyst Network is made up of business leaders who have founded and populated the program with appropriate furniture, equipment and wisdom from private-sector partners. In fact, the very idea of the EIC was partially inspired by a comment made by Jay Chawan, who is now the president of the network, expressing that he would like to see the business community more connected to public education. 

According to Catalyst Network Vice President Adam Beck, the idea started to blossom when former WCS Superintendent Mike Looney saw an entrepreneurship program on a trip to Denver and decided to pull Chawan in to formulate a plan. At the end of last year, the Williamson County Commission approved the hiring of Kari Miller as executive director of this, at the time, rather shapeless concept. 

Even without concrete details, Miller was able to travel to the district’s high schools and present the prospect of this new program to high school students, piquing their interest. 

“She had roughly two weeks to visit every high school and every guidance counselor to proselytize in front of the student body as often as they would let her and talk about a curriculum that also didn’t exist,” Beck said. “She was really selling an idea, and I’m really happy to say the idea took hold.” 

William Vablais, a member of the Catalyst Network, said he believes the EIC “took hold” largely because of Miller’s presentations, explaining that she took the more proactive route going to high schoolers rather than waiting for them to come to her. 

The EIC debuted Aug. 9 with 130 enrolled students broken up into groups to start brainstorming business models for their own start-ups. At the beginning of next semester, some of the student groups of three will have the chance to ask for seed money to implement their plans. 

“We’ll be giving monetary grants and microloans to these new fledging businesses through the Catalyst Network so that they can get these off the ground,” Beck said. “That’s obviously not something that the district can do, so again, it’s something where the Catalyst Network and the private sector need to close the gap.” 

Current members of the network have pledged 15% of the program’s $2 million goal, and they are asking members of the community to make up the remaining 85%. 

Beck said this can be done by donating to WCS for the specific purpose of supporting the EIC or directly to the Catalyst Network. He said they will also accept pledges for those concerned about tax deductibility, as they do not expect official approval of their 501(c)(3) status until Sept. 22. 

To learn more about the Catalyst Network, visit eiccatalystnetwork.org.

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