While CU students head down the hill, Watson University social entrepreneurs hike to Chautauqua Park to attend the non-profit university in Boulder.
Watson University’s 18 students spend each semester honing in on their world-changing ideas within the unique social-venture incubator housed at the base of the Flatirons.
“In a traditional higher education setting, there’s a lot of ambiguity about how their teaching applies post-graduation,” said Michael Williams, an entrepreneurial coach at Watson. “A lot of students find themselves questioning what that has to do with their passions and what they want to do in the world. At Watson, we’re accountable for the personal development of the scholar and the application of what they learn rather than their grade. We’d rather see people who are alive and want to change the world. That’s our driving force.”
Watson students are enrolled in three business-like classes: Transformative action, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Students also take a lab.
In the sustainability and social entrepreneurship class, for instance, students study global understanding of building the structure and framework of their venture, according to Madelle Mbong Kangha, a 23-year-old Watson scholar and London School of Economics graduate.
In the classes, Watson staff teach the students specific skills, like time management and business. Williams also runs a lab where students get to spend time together working on their ventures.
Williams’s goal as a coach is to help students either fail extremely fast or rapidly excel.
“The average entrepreneur fails seven times before they succeed,” Williams said. “Watson is a safe place to see people fail.”
Lab grades are based on extraordinary behavior, big successes as well as failures.
“If people have a spectacular failure, they are going to learn so much more from that than a lecture,” Williams said.
A failure might consist of realizing assumptions were wrong and scratching a whole project. Personal failures are also possible, if someone is too egotistic and hurts people during his or her time at Watson.
“Watson is a safe place to learn about your personal failures,” Williams said. “We want people who will make mistakes, because probably after these mistakes, people will come something amazing.”
Kangha came into Watson with Youth4Change, an organization she started that empowers and mentors young people. One of her main focuses is a disabilities project in Cameroon.
“At Watson, I am trying to find ways of having more impact and become more financially sustainable as an organization,” Kangha said. She formed a partnership with Omotola Okinsola, another student at Watson, to launch Jumpstart Academy Africa.
“Our mission is to provide youth opportunities to become ethical leaders and entrepreneurs,” Kangha said.
Classes at Watson are structured in such a way that they have an impact on the students and the way they go about developing their ventures.
“It’s very introspective,” Kangha said. “We look at business models and learn things that normal universities don’t teach. We learn about social entrepreneurs and change-makers. At other universities, we learn about problems and more problems, but here it is all about the solutions.”
A few of the students at Watson are current or past CU students. Junior marketing major Romain Vakilitabar, 21, said that because of his experiences with startup companies around the world, he feels his major at CU won’t apply to his future.
”I love Wastson because you totally have the freedom to create your own education,” Vakilitabar said. “I’ve been working really hard at CU to reinstate the program where you individually structure your own major.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Danielle Meltz at Danielle.firstname.lastname@example.org, or @justmeltz.