Music has been known to soothe the savage beast, but research shows it can also raise kids’ test scores, settle them to work quietly on homework, and clean up the school cafeteria in less than two minutes. Thanks to the work of a Stanford MBA team, starting this fall more grade school teachers around the country will learn about the pedagogical virtues of music by putting to work an innovative tool proven to help manage classroom behavior and drive academic engagement and achievement.
The musical tool at hand –– original recordings in hip-hop style that cue young students as to how to do things like move between classes, check homework, and clean up a room –– is the brainchild of Lorenzo Castillo, a fifth-grade teacher at New Orleans Leadership Academy who also happens to be a talented musician. His new tune-based company, Education Everytime, got a huge boost last month when the 6 Stanford MBA students helped him win $50,000 in funding at The Idea Village’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.
The MBA 2013 team, led by Colleen Donovan, threw themselves into a non-stop week of consulting at the hands-on entrepreneurial program called IDEAcorps, organized by New Orleans’ The Idea Village. They helped Castillo, who has already been using music he has written and produced successfully in the classroom, to expand distribution and create a more solid business enterprise. By creating scalable solutions, the MBA students were able to turn piecemeal offerings into a bona fide business.
“The diversity of our team allowed us to work holistically and effectively,” said Donovan. In addition to her own strong consulting background, the team benefitted from the contributions of Collin Walter and Anish Patel, who had already launched startups together, Kirsten Ganz and Maile Lesica, who were strong in marketing and branding, and Doug Weiss, who was also experienced as a consultant and has helped a number of non-profits and companies think about product launch and customer acquisition.
Going Up the Scale
The team started their work prior to the event by meeting with Castillo at Stanford. “As an artist, Lorenzo was naturally prone to getting pulled in three thousand different directions,” said Doug Weiss. “We were able to quickly understand what areas he needed the most work on and how we might be able to use his set of resources to get that work done.”
The team initially dove onto the phone with instructors and administrators from Teach for America and the Knowledge is Power Program charter school network, as well as friends they knew at other charter schools, to learn more about classroom management needs and how pedagogical tools typically get adopted. “We then set him up with warm teacher leads that will allow him to establish a distribution system,” says Donovan. “That will let him bring the business to scale.”
Walter and Patel created an early version of a website with which Castillo can approach teachers. The site provides not only the original hip-hop and rap-style songs used to cue student behavior during key class transitions (either between classes or in conjunction with specific activities), but also tutorials for how teachers may use the pieces. Ganz and Lesica helped him get clear on his marketing message and communication strategy so that both teachers and investors could fully see the value and potential of his enterprise.
Donovan noted that part of the team's success was based on the fact that Castillo readily took to the Stanford preference of “constant iteration” of a product over the need to create something perfect upfront. “One thing we pushed him on, though, is to get better data to demonstrate the academic impact of the product –– just how much it will help students perform better in the classroom, and so forth. So that's a work in progress,” she said.
The team then helped Castillo plan a pilot to be run across several schools this fall with a goal of involving 50 teachers. They also solidified a vision to turn Education Everytime into a subscription service that enables teachers to access specific music and customized playlists for a low monthly fee.
“The fact that we only had a week worked to our advantage,” said Donovan. “It forced us to spend time only on the things that would move the needle the most.” Agreed Patel, “Structured thinking around business problems and a strong work ethic can provide real value in a very short space of time.”
The GSB team joined MBA students from 7 other business schools participating in IDEAcorps, including those of Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, some of whom similarly helped participating companies vie for seed capital. The Columbia team, for example, helped Erik Frank win $50,000 for Your Nutrition Delivered, a company that brings healthy food to people’s doorstep.
Putting Classroom Skills to the Test
Reflecting on the value of the experience, Patel said, “Taking entrepreneurial classes at the GSB and elsewhere allowed me to bring valuable perspectives to the project and transplant some of Silicon Valley's best practices into a novel setting.”
Weiss said, “This was a rare opportunity to use our skillsets fully –– and to do it with an organization that has the potential to have such a positive impact on students and their education is one of the real benefits of the Stanford education.”
“In our final presentation, Lorenzo said we changed his life. That was meaningful for the team,” said Donovan happily.
“I'd recommend this weeklong immersion to any student interested in a real, practical entrepreneurial experience,” concluded Patel. “Being in a fantastic city alongside classmates is an added upside.”
For more information on The Idea Village's IDEAcorps program, please contact Allen Thayer.