“Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation”

- Zig Ziglar

With the concept note as our blueprint, we began our journey in selecting our Top 126 who will form the first batch of students of the Indus Start-up School.

With the limitations imposed by COVID-19 in terms of physical travel to the three schools or meeting with students, mentors and parents in person, we chose to instead leverage on the opportunities that the virtual world presented.

Numerous meetings and discussions ahead of the selection process focussed on possible scenarios that might emerge where we also ensured to have a contingency plan in place for each. Further, clear (and almost daily) communication across the three campuses meant everyone on the core team was on the same page and prepared for eventual hiccups.

Our communication inviting students to apply to the Start-up School was one met with mixed response. Excitement of course was predominantly what we observed, yet, seeing that this was a novel idea and the first of its kind in K-12 education in the world, both parents and students had questions that required our attention. What followed was a second round of emails and in certain cases, meetings and phone calls as well. In hindsight, this helped considerably where we saw the number of applicants considerably increase over the weekend.

The selection process included students filling an online application form which helped provide information on their academic and personal achievements. The students also nominated teachers who filled out a recommendation form in support of their application to the Start-up School. Furthermore, we also had students attempt the VIA survey which is an assessment of 24 leadership competencies and skills. The summary sheet made available almost minutes after the survey ranked each student’s leadership strengths into signature, mid-level and low-lying strengths.

During the week that the students and teachers were completing the forms, we also reached out to the parent mentors across the three cities sharing an update and also requesting for them to confirm their availability for the student interviews. The role of the parent mentors is critical to the success of the Start-up School. They will be stewards in the student’s innovation journey, one on which they will learn new things and strengthen their entrepreneurial competencies.

We are blessed to have thirty-five parent mentors, all successful entrepreneurs in their own right who will be coaching and mentoring the selected students. In fact, we have seen more parents come forward over the last few weeks offering to mentor students and this is a strong endorsement of the parents’ belief in the Start-up School and its vision.

Once we heard back from the parent mentors regarding their availability, we began drawing up a schedule. Not all mentors were available every day nor were they all available at the same time. What made this more challenging was that there were 269 interviews that needed to be scheduled over six working days and this put forth a challenge to the core team. However, with sound planning and discussions, what followed was a smooth and professionally conducted interview process. A large part of this success is because of the cohesiveness and effective communication within the core team which validates the expression of “strength truly resides in the team”.

Every student was interviewed by a panel comprising of two to three parent mentors and one (neutral) Indus representative. Atleast 48 hours ahead of the interview, the panel received a folder comprising of the student’s application, teacher recommendation and their VIA summary sheet. This allowed the panellists to learn more about the student applicant and have specific questions that they would like to ask them during the interview. The panel sent in feedback on every student which has been placed on record in their file.

Following the interviews, schools spent close to a week reviewing feedback and going over every student’s file. We wanted to ensure that no student was short changed and the best, most objective decision was arrived at. A critical aspect of the Start-up School is that students must commit and ensure they are able to balance the demands of both the Start-up School as well as their IB Curriculum. For this, their current academic scores also played a small, yet significant role in the decision-making process.

What emerged was that every student put forth a strong case and their enthusiasm extremely heartening. What we also realised was that while some students were ahead of the curve, the very fact that each of the 269 students applied to the Start-up School was an indication on their thirst for knowledge and learning. And with innovation being one of the pillars of legacy building at Indus, the CEO decided that we will include all applicants in the Start-up School, albeit via two routes. While we will continue with the original plan of having the Top 42 (henceforth referred to as Track 2 students) from each campus guided by the parent mentors, the other students (henceforth referred to as Track 1 students), who are our entrepreneurs in waiting will be guided by members of the leadership team and faculty. And depending on the progress the Track 1 students make; they will be able to graduate to the higher group. Track 2 students will be expected to spend four hours a week at the Start-up School and Track 1 students an hour and a half.

The curriculum drawn up for both groups focusses on the development of life, leadership, business and technological competencies and is set within a 40:20:40 framework. The first 40% includes experiential and collaborative learning avenues, 20% deals with mentoring, coaching, feedback and assessment and the remaining 40% includes self-directed learning which refers to guiding students on how to think, how to learn and how to ask the right questions.

While we reflect on the last few weeks, some of the lessons we learned are as follows,

· The teacher recommendations could have been more comprehensive.

· The feedback received on each student must be more detailed.

· As we look at a significant increase in the number of student applications in the next session, there is a need to review the selection process as personal interviews may not be possible.

· Further to the above point, with an increase in student intake from Year 2, a review of the role of mentors may also be required.

A grand (virtual) inauguration of the Start-up School was scheduled on September 12th 2020. We had guests from different parts of the world, including Silicon Valley, participate in the formal launch and wishing out young entrepreneurs the very best of luck on their innovation journey.

As this moon-shot idea that is the Start-up School unfolds, a new lesson is learned almost every day. And the excitement and enthusiasm to see it succeed remains at the core. We are now in the midst of forming heterogeneous groups and fine tuning the curriculum, both of which will feature in the next blog post.