ST. GEORGE — Ranging from Bird in a Hand to Pilot in the Plane, students in George Mackaronis’s class at the Blue Ridge School rattled off examples of different entrepreneurship principles and how they could apply to their business ideas.
This review exercise wrapped up the first trimester of a new class at the all-male boarding school in Greene County. In the class, students learn how to think like entrepreneurs before diving in to developing business ideas.
“It’s all about thinking creatively and outside the box,” Mackaronis said. “One of the reasons why it’s so great to learn is because you can use that thought process for many other things, not just necessarily your favorite, hypothetical home-run business idea.”
After spending the last trimester focused on entrepreneurship principles, students will start working on business ideas that they’ll eventually pitch to a panel of alumni and the student body.
The entrepreneurship electives stemmed from a “Shark Tank”-esque extracurricular that was created by alumni and offered last year for the first time. Mackaronis is hoping to expand the courses next year to give students more time to learn the fundamentals and workshop their ideas.
He said the class is important for students because “it’s a little bit unorthodox.”
“It’s different than your traditional math or science or English or history course,” he said. “I think it’s exciting too. A goal of mine as an educator is figuring out ways that I can make the content I have as exciting as possible. I think entrepreneurship lends itself to that because it’s all about creating and there’s a lot of freedom within that.”
Kenyon Carter, a senior at Blue Ridge, signed up for the class because he eventually wants to go into business.
“I’m really good at making business ideas, so I wanted to gain more knowledge for that,” he said.
Carter is ready to start working on a pitch; he said he’s not nervous to pitch to his peers.
“I feel like just getting started is a good step forward,” he said.
Jackson Lindsey, a junior at Blue Ridge, said the class caught his eye when he was registering for courses.
“It’s a way to make me think and be more creative,” he said. “ … [Mackaronis] found a way to incorporate fun into the classroom, like having us pick teams and making it a friendly competition.”
Students in the first Baron Tank extracurricular came up with ideas for a phone app. In the class, Mackaronis wants his students to come up with plans for a summer program.
He has tried to impress on his students that most entrepreneurs take several years to come up with a business..
“To start something in a year is like hyperspeed,” he said.
Mackaronis worked with professors at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business to create curriculum for the course.
Mackaronis said the class teaches students life skills that can be used beyond creating a business.
“One of the first things that we did was examine some of the big myths about entrepreneurship,” he said. “One of which is that successful entrepreneurs never fail. They are just always successful. … When we start to dig deeper into the careers of these people, they fail all the time and have failed at many things that they thought were great ideas but didn’t work out. For them to know that failure will occur and they can apply that to any decisions that they make.”
Blue Ridge alumni came up with the idea for Baron Tank and pitched the idea to the school.
Parker Douglass, who graduated in 1998, came up with the idea for the class while watching an episode of Shark Tank.
“We needed a program that’s going to help us stand out from other boarding schools in our market,” he said. “It’s an arms race right now.”
To his knowledge, Blue Ridge is the only boarding school to offer such a program.
“Blue Ridge likes to think outside the box,” said Brooks Minford, a 2009 graduate who helped with the project, adding that it’s similar to the school’s outdoor program.
During the class, alumni serve as advisers to the students.
Burke Earley, who graduated in 1986, said his email and phone is wide open to students. He likes the class because it’s a way for alumni to take their life experience and give back to the school.
“We all went there and all loved it,” Earley said. “It’s one way we can have the most impact on the student body.”
Earley said the idea of Baron Tank was to teach students about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
“It sounds romantic, but it’s flat out hard work,” he said. “They can’t be scared of hard work or failure.”