We Learn Live Envisions New Model of Entrepreneurship Education

Yoli Chisholm, a Microsoft marketer, thinks there are lots of people like her: They’ve got good ideas, and aspire to be entrepreneurs, but may lack the resources or safety net to go out on their own.

She’s recruiting for a new Seattle-area program to begin in January called We Learn Live (WELL) that aims to provide business and entrepreneurship education in a new way. The program is also meant to develop three of Chisholm’s own ideas into actual new businesses, in which participants would have an ownership stake.

“It’s kind of like crowd-sourcing education, and crowd-sourcing sweat equity,” Chisholm says, adding that she hopes to attract a broad cross-section of participants, from corporate workers looking for tools to advance their side-hustles to people from communities that aren’t benefitting from the region’s technology boom.

Her idea is for a lightweight, low-risk introduction to best practices for building a new business. WELL participants would commit to meeting two hours a week for a year. The first hour would be a business lesson taught by Chisholm, pictured above, or one of several local experts who have agreed to help, including Madrona Venture Group’s Greg Gottesman and Julep’s Jane Park. The participants—24 in all, split into three teams—would apply the lesson to their business in the second hour.

“Yoli is trying to create a program to teach the fundamentals of entrepreneurship more broadly,” Gottesman says via e-mail. “I think that’s pretty exciting and am happy to play a small part in contributing some time.”

Chisholm says she is fronting $50,000 for the effort, which will be housed at the Africatown Innovation Center, near the Columbia City Link light rail station. Participants will be asked to make a $100 deposit, refundable at the end of the program, as a token of their commitment. They will exchange their time and effort working on Chisholm’s ideas for a stake in any eventual business and an education in things like business model development, fundraising, product development, vendor-supplier sourcing, branding, and go-to-market strategy.

We Learn Live logo“I have the ideas, and I have the resources at least to start up,” says Chisholm, whose background includes stints with eBay, startup companies and efforts within larger businesses, and her own startup consulting business. “But I lack the bodies and brainpower to build a team, so my thought was giving aspiring entrepreneurs opportunities to get a crash course in business, while they build a business.”

The business ideas, listed on the WELL website, are: “A technology brand that will change the way we use YouTube”; “A fashion brand that will change the way we party”; and, “A consumer packaged good that will cause an uproar in a sector that is over 100 years old.” Chisholm is hesitant to provide much more detail now for competitive reasons.

“At the end of the year we will see if we have a viable product, and [the participants] have the option to decide whether we continue to build that business, or whether they take the playbook of skills that they’ve developed along the way and apply them to their own ideas,” Chisholm says.

Chisholm, who was a judge during the recent Startup Weekend Hack the CD event, says part of her motivation is to increase access to entrepreneurship education for under-served communities.

“There is a segment of the community that won’t have access to this kind of expertise, and so hence the partnership with Africatown Innovation Center,” she says, adding, “Those are the kinds of skill sets and access to expertise you may not typically get in your standard small business resources that, say, the government gives.”

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