Keybank, Trailhead partner to encourage rural student entrepreneurs

Sharon Fisher//April 18, 2019

Keybank, Trailhead partner to encourage rural student entrepreneurs

Sharon Fisher//April 18, 2019

photo of trailhead
Trailhead, a coworking space in downtown Boise, is partnering with KeyBank on a program to encourage student entrepreneurs in rural Idaho. File photo.

Trailhead and KeyBank are partnering on a program to help support student entrepreneurs in rural parts of Idaho.

The KeyBank foundation is donating $70,000 toward You Lead Idaho!, which Trailhead, a coworking space in downtown Boise, is managing. The four-month, curriculum-based program is intended to provide mentorship, entrepreneurial thinking, real-world technology application and scholarships. The goal is to increase the rate of high school students from rural Idaho who go on to college and other secondary educational experiences, the organizations said.

photo of matthew gilkerson
Matthew Gilkerson

In rural communities, students often lack easy access to technology and educational materials compared to their more urban counterparts, and this is particularly challenging for underrepresented populations, said Matthew Gilkerson, Trailhead program manager.

“That’s the root and core of this grant,” he said.

Exactly which districts would be considered to be “rural” is not clear at this point, but it will be based on the state Board of Education’s definition, he said.

“I want to touch every rural district in the state at some point,” Gilkerson said.

According to the State Board of Education website, 102 of Idaho’s 116 public school districts — or approximately three-quarters of the school districts in Idaho — are considered “rural.”

The program is expected to start in mid-September with at least eight schools. Trailhead is in the process of identifying the schools in partnership with the Idaho Distance Learning Academy (IDLA).

“The idea is to teach entrepreneurial skills to students through the semester,” followed by a final project that will be presented to a panel, which will award scholarship money to the students and prize money to the school,” Gilkerson said. The culminating pitch competition will be administered digitally with a panel of judges remotely engaging with the students, according to Cori Keeton Pope, a KeyBank spokesperson.

But there’s more to the program than just the money, Gilkerson said.

“There are so many benefits outside of hard knowledge and dual credit,” he said. “There’s life skills and opening their eyes to see opportunities after high school.”

Those additional opportunities could include apprenticeships, coding bootcamps and entrepreneurship, as well as traditional four-year degrees, he said.

For each of the school districts, Trailhead will be partnering with a “champion” in the high school, and teams of at least six students, as well as mentors, including the IDLA. The advantage of including IDLA is that it provides participating students with a dual credit option to give them college credit, he said.

One complication is that rural regions of the state are also least likely to have access to high-speed broadband internet, though the high schools themselves typically have it.

“That’s something we’re going to need to address,” Gilkerson said. “We will visit the majority of schools and districts to assess that and ramp up momentum for the fall semester,” he said.

Winning schools could also use some of the prize money to help improve the internet for the school for the benefit of later classes of students, he added.

In January, Gov. Brad Little announced during his State of the State speech that he intended to help improve broadband internet access in Idaho. The process will start with a task force, the composition of which is expected to be announced in early May, according to Marissa Morrison, press secretary for the governor’s office.

According to the annual 2018 Speedtest U.S. Fixed Broadband Performance Report by Ookla, released on Dec. 12 for Q2-Q3 2018, Idaho ranked 47th out of the 50 states for mean download speeds, ahead of Montana, Wyoming and Maine.