Business & Economy Georgia Impact

Cindy Quinlan: Educational Entrepreneurship

Cindy Quinlan BBA '02, MEd '03, EdS '09 has led teaching workshops around the world but some of her biggest successes have been much closer to home, where she introduces Gwinnett high school students to the concepts and strategies behind entrepreneurship. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

Imagine graduating from high school with $200,000 in sales from a business you started as a freshman. That’s the reality for some students at Brookwood High School in Snellville thanks to Cindy Quinlan BBA ’02, MEd ’03, EdS ’09.

The history-loving, world-traveling educator is on a mission to disrupt education through entrepreneurship. And launching businesses is only one part of the equation.

“An entrepreneurial mindset fosters problem-solving, resiliency, and adaptability—all of the qualities we need to be successful in the world,” she says.

Cindy Quinlan (front row, center) with the teachers who attended her student-engagement workshop in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.

But, Quinlan explains, entrepreneurship is not an easy subject for teachers to tackle. “The first year—I’ll be honest—I absolutely failed. That’s what I tell teachers I train now.” That initial setback pushed Quinlan to rethink her strategy. She began attending workshops through Real LEDGE, a nonprofit organization promoting economic development through entrepreneurship education. “That’s where it all clicked for me,” she says.” I discovered how to incorporate experiential learning to keep students engaged in the classroom.”

Quinlan realized the key to entrepreneurship education is framing subjects and posing interactive questions that foster critical thinking. This can take the form of launching a school-based enterprise, designing a new product, or addressing community issues through social entrepreneurship.

Through this new approach, Quinlan’s students weren’t just learning about entrepreneurship; they were practicing it. “One student launched a monogram business,” she says. “She reinvested her money into her education and paid her way through college with a business that she started in my classroom as a 15-year-old.” And she wasn’t alone. In eight years, the number of students launching businesses in Quinlan’s class quadrupled.

What if every student had access to those tools? That question inspired Quinlan to share her strategy with others. Now, she leads workshops around the world, most recently in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria (above), where she helped local teachers create implementation plans to engage their students and address social issues in their communities.

“I hope that training helped change the lives of students I’ll never meet,” she says. For Quinlan, entrepreneurship is about more than making money—it’s about changing the world. “When students have the ability to think entrepreneurially, it’s the solution to poverty.”

Quinlan imagines a world where students across all disciplines learn entrepreneurial skills. To help spread the power of entrepreneurship education to others, she and Angelia McLane, Brookwood’s language arts department chair, launched EntrepreNOWship. The platform provides entrepreneurship education lesson plans for teachers worldwide. “We’ve written all the curriculum ourselves,” she says. “I’ve been able to do what I’ve done because I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve worked with throughout the years. It’s amazing to see so many great teachers out there helping prepare the next generation.”