Greg Pilewski | October 2014

STEAM Leadership: Declaration of Innovation

Recently, my colleague Susan Riley and I had the wonderful opportunity to tour an entrepreneurial incubator space in Washington, D.C. called 1776.   The space fosters, and globally connects entrepreneurial startups with the resources they need to tackle the most difficult challenges. Challenges in areas such as education, health, energy, and government through coaching, corporate connections, and media outlets.  The space was founded in 2013 by Evan Burfiled and Donna Harris, both highly successful entrepreneurs with a passion for innovation.

As Susan and I waited for our tour, I noticed a saying at the top of a wall near the reception desk that read “Declaration of Innovation”. Talk about inspirational! I moved closer to read the entire wall. Then, I literally bumped into a friendly guy that asked me, “What brings you to 1776?” “What’s your deal?” The next thing I knew I had a two-minute conversation about STEAM/arts integration professional development for educators, an invitation on Linkedin, and a follow-up meeting to connect with some people about a potential partnership.  All of which took place in a five-minute walk to the elevator as the guy was leaving.  

I went back to Susan as the tour was getting ready to start and she said….”What just happened?” “We haven’t even been here for ten minutes and we already have an opportunity?”  Call it what you want, but there was a synergy in the atmosphere.

Located on the 11th and 12th floors of an historic building, the environment at 1776 serves as a collaborative work space, virtual community, and an event center that is the bedrock for a global hub of innovation.  In order to use the space, potential members need to apply and go through a rigorous selection process. Once approved, they have access to top leaders in businesses, investors, and politics while taking classes on web design to being mentored by successful entrepreneurs on how to “pitch” their business ideas.  If you have a problem sleeping, don’t worry….the 1776 campus is open 24/7 for selected members.

The physical space at 1776 is super cool!  People are collaborating all over the place such as the  “Steve Jobs” conference room or the “Bill Gates” conference room to shared desks, couches, and lounge chairs.  People are on lap tops, cell phones, or collaborating in front of a series of LCD televisions.  There is even a kitchen and everyone seems to know about the famous “peanut butter and jelly” sandwiches that you can make.  

Corporate sponsors such as Microsoft, MedStar Health, and Pearson, etc. even sponsor their own conference rooms to show their support for new businesses.  Their logos can be seen hanging above conference room doorways.  Private space is also available.  In fact, we noticed one gentleman walking on a treadmill while working at his desk while listening to music.  Another unique space was the wall of British style antique phone booths for members to make private calls.  How cool is that?

As we moved to the 11th floor we were given a tour of the “General Assembly”.  This space was in some ways similar to the 12th floor, but this is where they offer full-time, part-time, and workshops for members.  As we turned the corner we observed a group of members taking a web development class.  The classroom had floor to ceiling dry erase boards and the entire exterior classroom wall was made of glass and you could see words, drawings and ideas in different colors filling the space.  

The curriculum and workshops that they offer are exciting from “First 90-days of an Idea” to “Digital Marketing”, and “Data Science”.  It was easy to observe the collaboration and sharing of ideas as we walked from one section to another.  In fact, we observed a member doing a practice “pitch” of his business to some colleagues as they provided feedback and ongoing support.  We later learned that they have “pitch” events at 1776 where entrepreneurs practice pitching their ideas to an audience as a competition with the notion of eventually “pitching” to real investors.   Doesn’t that sound exciting?

As our tour concluded, we took the elevator down to the first floor and looked at each other and said “What could this experience look like in school for students?”  “What could this experience look like for teachers”?

As you reflect on your own “Declaration of Innovation” consider the following questions as you dig deeper.

  • How could you combine the 1776 startup concept with an approach to integrate STEAM/Arts integration? 
  • What might happen if you had teachers experience a similar entrepreneurial process while exploring real-world problems, essential questions and address two or more content standards through a project they create? 
  • How could you connect the 1776 startup concept with the “maker movement”?
  • How could you integrate  your community and business partners as coaches to support your teachers through the entrepreneurial process? 
  • Could your community or business partners sponsor a “conference room” in your school or district office? 
  • How could a portion of your faculty meetings be devoted to teachers “pitching” their projects and modeling true integration? 
  • If teachers experienced such a transformation through this process would they buy-in and model it with their students? 

About the Author

Greg is a former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and has nearly twenty years of classroom, school-based and district-level leadership experience in five different public school systems. He has a passion for teaching and learning and a commitment to supporting school-level and system-level leaders with integrated and innovative resources. Not only is Greg an accomplished leader and speaker, he’s also an avid tinkerer in his workshop where he enjoys making projects around his historic home for his lovely wife and two Labrador retrievers. You can catch Greg’s insights right here each and every Thursday and contact him directly at: