George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

How Teaching Builds Entrepreneurial Skills

Whether you’re pursuing a new passion or a side project, these teaching skills will serve you well in your endeavors.

February 13, 2024
Pablo Blasberg / Ikon Images

At the end of my 17th year working in education, I started a plant-based (vegan) deli slice business, and although I didn’t have any experience in business or the food industry, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that my experiences teaching and working within educational systems proved invaluable as an entrepreneur. 

Although entrepreneurship is often associated with business, The Balance defines an entrepreneur more broadly, as “someone who develops an enterprise around an innovation.” Whether you are a teacherpreneur, considering a side hustle, or even thinking about a career change, I’ve identified 10 principles of transferable qualities and skills from teaching that apply to the world of entrepreneurship.  

10 entrepreneurial teacher Qualities and Skills

1. Centered on values: Teaching is a caring profession. Teachers care for students by providing a safe, productive learning environment and helping students improve their skills, build their knowledge, and cultivate their dispositions. 

The world needs more entrepreneurs who are not just out to make money, but actually are “making the world a better place,” to quote this Silicon Valley parody. Teachers, with their commitment to helping others, can direct entrepreneurship toward benevolent goals and work toward those goals with kindness. And they can leverage a knack for communicating the deeper “why” behind their actions.

2. Educating others: Teachers, of course, help students learn. As an entrepreneur, you will also need to educate and communicate with customers who need to understand the products or services that you are offering. 

As experts in designing, facilitating, and assessing learning, teachers can help others understand their entrepreneurial projects. Customers frequently asked me how to use the vegan deli slices that I was selling, so, like a good formative assessor, I used that information to advance learning. I created QR codes that appear on the back of every package and take customers to a webpage with illustrations of possible uses—a multimodal approach to addressing “pain points” in learning.

3. Marketing: Teachers find ways to help students see the value in their learning. It is no small feat to appeal to students’ myriad interests, preferences, and identities. 

Appealing to customers is similar. For example, working with youth helped me recognize that superheroes are timeless, which led to my creation of a plant-based superhero logo, which has resonated with my customers.

4. Persistence: Teaching can be hard. Students have many strengths, needs, preferences, advantages, and disadvantages, so it is inevitable that teachers’ efforts sometimes fall short and don’t lead to advances in students’ learning. Yet, in those moments, teachers keep trying—again and again. 

That persistence is helpful in entrepreneurship, since there are inevitable setbacks. As one of many examples, I think of a time when my attempt to slice a garbanzo-bean-based vegan “meat” created, instead, a pile of mush. Rather than give up, I sent samples of the product to industrial slicer manufacturers who can slice it more effectively. Flexibility and problem-solving, the roots of persistence, are as needed in business as in the classroom.

5. Being a learner: Teachers model lifelong learning by demonstrating a growth mindset and applying strategies to advance their learning. Since entrepreneurial projects are new by nature, they too require learning. Whether pursuing a new degree or a professional certification, or shadowing a master in a craft or trade, embracing the qualities and habits of mind that make learning most effective will serve teachers well in many contexts beyond school-based professional learning.

6. Navigating systems: From licensure to fingerprinting, teachers navigate many facets of the education system, and the tenacity needed to do so can also come to fruition as an entrepreneur. In my case, using the state’s teacher credentialing system prepared me to navigate federal, state, and local food and health regulations—necessary, if not the most exciting, components of starting a food-based business in a safe and effective way.

7. Developing rapport: Most teachers get a new flock of students every semester or year and learn strategies for quickly developing rapport with them—which can be crucial to success. To do so, teachers build trust, listen actively, and find shared interests with students. And those skills can also be invaluable in helping entrepreneurs quickly build rapport with collaborators, colleagues, contractors, and customers in their business projects.

8. Connections in the community: Whatever your endeavor, you probably already have connections who can help you if you identify and leverage them. As a teacher, you are embedded in the community, and the colleagues and families whom you know can be valuable resources. 

After I announced that I was leaving my position to start my business, my colleagues offered helpful feedback on early versions of my plant-based deli slices that informed future iterations. Who in your community can support your entrepreneurial project? 

9. Planning: Teachers do a lot of planning. The skills involved in mapping out steps needed to advance toward reaching a certain goal, and adjusting along the way, resemble business planning. 

In my business plan, I project revenue/sales for the next few years. As I compare the actual sales to those projects, I make adjustments that resemble the interplay of a unit plan in teaching. Starting with a goal and working backward to identify next steps needed to achieve it, and applying knowledge of assessment to track progress, are invaluable skills.

10. Content knowledge: The content that you teach may be directly applicable to an entrepreneurial project. I have a background in science education, and my understanding of measurements and experimentation has been helpful as I’ve tinkered with recipes and scaled my business. 

For example, I cool the batter for one of my products in molds. For the prototype, I used a duct pipe lined with parchment paper, followed by candle molds. After scouring the internet for food-safe options, I landed on stainless steel cheese molds.

Each day, teachers build their entrepreneurial tool kit, perhaps without knowing it. Whether forging a new career path or crafting an educational initiative alongside your life as a teacher, educator entrepreneurs have much to offer in shaping a better future.

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