“The best way to bring the real world into the classroom is to make the real-world classroom” – Dr. Mark Weyers, Co-founder and CEO of BCI Innovation Labs.
Entrepreneurship isn’t always a learned skill. It’s a personality trait and a drive to innovate driven by curiosity. It also involves strong business skills, something most students need time and help to really hone. When Co-founder and CEO of BCI Innovation Labs, Dr Mark Weyers, recognized a missing link between research-based education and entrepreneurship studies, he set out to provide a space for learners to learn things their way. Bringing the focus to those he refers to as “societies outliers”; the students who weren’t built for large classroom lectures or over the top academia, Weyers created an educational opportunity for entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty and dive deep into the world of business building in a hands-on, learn-all, Lean Education model that develops entrepreneurs and their businesses simultaneously while giving them an academic qualification.
“Real world” is a term that is loosely tossed around in the education space noting the differences between a classroom or lecture hall setting and the literal work experience. Weyers has spent his entire 20-year career in education, and has taught at every level of the system (elementary, secondary and higher education), including overseas in England and is now working with TVDSB as a full-time educator. His years working at University College London (UK) as a senior teaching fellow, where he focused on research-based education and teaching university faculty how to teach, brought him to an innovation bottleneck, where he started connecting the dots between “real world” experience as education and building his Lean Education model that soon became the foundation for the BCI Innovation Labs approach. Known for innovating innovation itself, Weyers states “I have always found the statement ‘think outside the box’ to be somewhat restricting. At BCI our motto is ‘There is no box’”. BCI Innovation labs is an educational opportunity where students are supported in building their businesses from the ground up. With a specific focus in STEM, BCI Innovation Labs provides hands on education, walking its students through each step of building a start up by actually building a startup from scratch. Students can work together as co-founders, continue building an innovation that they’ve already started, or start from the very beginning, honing an entrepreneurial spirit and sparking innovation right in the classroom. Using co-working spaces and London-local entrepreneurial support, Weyers aligns the education of his students with the expectations of building a venture.
This process is unlike many traditional educational institutions, as its free-flowing curriculum and specification for each student is individualized and innovated as the learning happens. Students who come to BCI Innovation Labs can learn with the goal of becoming a rockstar tech employee or a founder and CEO, with learning activities aligned directly to each individual’s life goals and expected outcomes from the program. Innovators and entrepreneurs can use BCI Innovation Labs learning as an accelerator to literally build each block of their business alongside other students, educators and local entrepreneurs who keep their end goal at the forefront of the educational decisions. Specific to each individual, lean education provides students with the opportunity to collaborate, learn, teach, and build something that they are proud of. BCI is currently running a Minecraft coding and robotics Makerspace at Infotech Research Group (ITRG) for elementary and secondary students, which is funded by the Thames Valley District School Board experiential learning department. “I’m amazed at what these children and young people can do when encouraged to design and build things with code,” says Weyers, “The driving force behind my continued motivation in this venture is the look on a student’s face when they feel success. To know that the student feels proud of the work that they have done and can see the tangible innovation that they built makes it easy for me to keep giving as much as I can to these students”.
Weyers stands strong in his belief that everybody is a student, and everybody is a teacher. Running several different programs for students of all ages in areas of software development, Minecraft coding and game development, business technology, No-Code product development, and more, including the recent expansion into high school-aged entrepreneurial programs, BCI Innovation Labs focuses all of its education on the Build – Measure – Learn process. Students become teachers and mentors to each other and their instructors, because at the end of the day, everybody is a learner first. “Education is not just about teaching and learning, it is a group of collaborative people learning together, building together, and teaching each other new things every day”, says Weyers.
Now in the process of exciting expansion, BCI Innovation Labs has recently registered a private college in Ontario called the British Canadian Institute of Technology to further their educational impact in London and surrounding areas. With Co-founder, Dr James MacAskill, serial entrepreneur in technology and education living across the world, they are launching their first international global education program connecting London, England, with London Ontario. BCI Innovation Labs is focused on innovating itself to become globally impactful in the lives of societies outliers, young innovators, and forever-students. “My passion is employability and creating education programs that build real skills to build future careers,” says MacAskill. When asked ‘why BCI?’, he adds, “People have ideas all the time, but what defines an entrepreneur is an ability to put these ideas into practice. However, even if you only have one driving passion, BCI’s great contribution is to allow you to focus on the innovation and entrepreneurship experience. This draws on our founding story and experience of entrepreneurial education and employability skills that capitalize on the real need for Canadian and British economies to build and retain the next generation of unicorns”. BCI allows the next generation of pioneers, change-makers, indie hackers, and outliers the chance to put their idea into practice without breaking the bank.
As Weyers and MacAskill further their Lean Education model to suit new types of students and generations of entrepreneurs, their dedication to real world education will continue to bolster young entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams step by step, and side by side with some of the most dedicated teachers along the way.
To learn more about BCI Innovation Labs or join one of their many programs or communities, go to https://bcinnovationlabs.com