Incubators are vocational schools. I’m not Mark Suster or Fred Wilson, but that statement deserves to get pasted all over the blogosphere.
What makes up a vocational school? We’ve first got to scrub our minds of what we’ve come to think of vocational schools. They aren’t limited. They don’t prepare us for low wage jobs. They don’t lack resources. Vocational education prepares its students for particular occupations or teaches particular skills. In our case, they teach us to build technology and sell it.
In the last month this is exactly what I’ve experienced.
I’ve learned how to network, market a product, and be a better leader.
Ryan has learned HTML, java script, and Ruby.
Robert has learned HTML and how to create .ePubs.
And Jackie is learning new English words on a daily basis along with new aspects of Objective-C.
And why are we learning all these things? To create an iPad/iPhone application that will change education from the ground up. We also do it to have a product for the market at the end of the day. But we’re also doing it because we love to learn – and we are getting something here that we are not getting in our traditional schooling.
Compare these pictures:
The first was taken at the Tuskegee Institute in 1902. The second was taken at Dreamit in 2011. Is it difficult to accept that the Tuskegee Institute was the foundation and inspiration for today’s tech incubators?
W.E.B. Dubois says this about the first vocational schools in his Atlantic essay from 1902, “Of the Training of Black Men.”
“The industrial school springing to notice in this decade…was the proffered answer to this combined educational and economic crisis, and an answer of singular wisdom and timeliness. From the very first in nearly all the schools some attention had been given to training in handiwork, but now this training first raised to a dignity that brought it in direct touch with the South’s magnificent industrial development…”
The incubator system was created in response to the 21st century’s “combined educational and economic crisis.”
Paul Graham started the first incubator, Y-Combinator, in 2005. In a Wired article from this year, they call Y-Combinator “A boot camp for start-ups.” Why don’t they just call it what it really is? A technical school founded and governed by a really intelligent principal. Is Paul Graham a reborn Booker T. Washington? Is Y-Combinator an iteration of the Tuskegee Institute?
The glamor shots in that article make it nearly impossible for us to recognize the similarities, but let’s look at the words and philosophies of the founders:
“In industry the foundation must be laid–that the very best service which any one can render to what is called the higher education is to teach the present generation to provide a material or industrial foundation. On such a foundation as this will grow habits of thrift, a love of work, economy, ownership of property, bank accounts. Out of it in the future will grow practical education, professional education, positions of public responsibility. Out of it will grow moral and religious strength. Out of it will grow wealth from which alone can come leisure and the opportunity for the enjoyment of literature and the fine arts.” – Booker T. Washington, “Industrial Education for the Negro,” 1903.
“About a month after we started Y-Combinator we came up with the phrase that became our motto: Make something people want…another thing we tell founders is not to worry too much about the business model, at least at first. Not because making money is unimportant, but because it’s so much easier than building something great…Morale is tremendously important to a startup – so important that morale alone is almost enough to determine success…Here’s where benevolence comes in. If you feel you’re really helping people, you’ll keep working even when it seems like your startup is doomed…the mere fact that someone needs you makes you want to help them…another advantage of being good is that it makes other people want to help you.” – Paul Graham, Be Good, 2008.
That doesn’t sound too different to me. I have always believed that there is nothing new under the sun. This helps keep you humble when you’re the CEO of a company bringing amazingly revolutionary disruptive progress in the social/mobile ed-tech market. I don’t take credit for what we’re creating. I give credit to my students who asked for a solution to a problem. They asked for tools that made sense to them in the spaces where they are located.
Just like how Dean Kamen got sick of walking everywhere and figured out how to create a roman chariot to make it look like he was floating around, just like Peter Dering got sick of hanging his camera around his neck like an aping idiot, we all create when we see a problem and feel empowered.
But many of our nation’s youth don’t feel empowered. So we’re forced to fill our incubators with young people who have been raised in mostly loving, nurturing, and supportive homes. And if they weren’t, they found it somewhere along the line. And it allows them to take risks confidently. Like I’ve said before, success in the start-up game is all about being fearless. These are the same students who attend our nation’s most prestigious universities. And these labels, sometimes more than abilities, give them the self-confidence to call themselves entrepreneurs.
How can we bring this culture of innovation to our youth sooner than later? How can we make them see learning as relevant and engaging? How can we begin mentor programs that encourage our children to see themselves as creators? We start by creating with them.
And that’s why incubators, and vocational schools, are brilliant. They bring people together to accomplish a collective intention centered around creation. It creates the perfect atmosphere that matches exactly W.E.B. Dubois’ call for the system that would rip away chains rather than impose them:
“To make here in human education that ever necessary combination of the permanent and the contingent — of the ideal and the practical in workable equilibrium — has been there, as it ever must in every age and place, a matter of infinite experiment and frequent mistakes.”
Incubators, no more than the first vocational schools, are learning laboratories. That is what this nation needs. But this nation needs it for everyone. I don’t have any data, but I’m willing to say that the demographics of incubators are similar to the demographics of the top ten universities. This is unacceptable. 21st century vocational schools (incubators) need to include and support every kind of young person with a variety of backgrounds.
I am proud to be a part of Dreamit because of their Minority Entrepreneur Accelerator Program (MEAP). But the tech scene needs more of this. Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois were the first pioneers of incubation thought – both were amazing bloggers for their time, also. We need to bring this new kind of thinking even further.
We must further explore what Washington and Dubois started to see over a hundred years ago – although they could not have articulated it because they didn’t have the research of Einstein, Bohr, and Wheeler like we do today.
This new kind of learning laboratory requires a new kind of science that we call quantum mechanics.
The old school system, and the old science, followed the assumptions of Newtonian science that conclude that we all have private minds. This view defined the universe as fundamentally separate, irreducible parts.
Incubators require a breaking of the fetters of the private mind. Incubators take the bets they do because they invest in collective intelligence. They invest in the “flow” of a bunch of brilliant minds coming together to create. Revelations like Bell’s thereom, now proven, require us to completely rethink our assumptions about connectivity and collective potential.
This is what any good educational institution should be doing – investing in collective intelligence. And, for any student-teacher wanting to learn more about best practices, incubators are the place they should be. That’s why I’m here.
We live in a new world now. We live in a quantum world where the universe is non-locally, suppositionally entangled. This new paradigm requires a new system of learning. It requires a new student. It requires a new teacher. It requires a new quill.