100in100pdx is a Challenge to consult and coach with 100 Portland-based businesses in 100 days, while donating 50 percent of the fees to non-profits that plant and nurture the seeds of entrepreneurship. LEP High, the Leadership and Entrepreneurship charter high school in Portland, will be one of these non-profits and I had the pleasure of interviewing entrepreneur and co-founder, Adam Reid.
The interview had a surprising beginning when Adam shared, “I felt like teachers were just keeping me busy, rather than try to inspire me and help me grow towards a future that I wanted.” I found out that Adam was disengaged throughout high school and saw it as a “jail sentence.” Luckily, he had passions outside of school, like his garage band. At fifteen, he fell into entrepreneurship when he bought recording equipment and then actually started making money by producing other kids’ music.
Having struggled academically through high school, Adam had no motivation to continue onto college. It was only at the insistence of his parents and their worry about his inevitable demise that he enrolled at Portland State University. At PSU, everything was different for Adam and he found himself engaged and flourishing. His class in service learning, which inspired him to start a travelling music program for low-income youth, was pivotal in planting the seed for LEP High. With ease, Adam graduated from PSU as a Magna Cum Laude. His experience at PSU enabled him to start believing that the “sky is the limit. You come up with an idea and execute it. You can go really far. . .[and] being able to carve your own path and see your own actions amount to something and see things blossom? I became fully addicted to it.”
When the Charter Law passed in ’99, Adam saw an opportunity to innovate at a public school. He crafted his own Master’s degree from Stanford and decided to open a high school with a theme of Leadership and Entrepreneurship. He states, “Youth have the creative drive, youth want to be respected. They want to be heard. They have great ideas, excitement, and ambition. They haven’t been jaded by the real world yet and there’s this thirst for life that they have that’s really inspiring. But we tend to beat it out of them in the school system and turn them into a bunch of factory workers.” Adam wanted to empower and capture what naturally exists in youth and create a way for it to bloom, specifically for youth who wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise. LEP was born.
LEP High opened in 2006 and three years later, the district voted to close it for financial reasons after retroactively taking $150,000 out of its budget mid-year. What happened next is nothing short of amazing. The students rallied and protested by doing a walk-in/sleep-in. 150 students locked themselves into the school, had pizza donated, gathered chaperones, and contacted every major news station who started reporting on the hour. The students hosted classes for each other and the following morning, they walked down to Portland Public School headquarters and turned in letters to the board – one by one. The students brought together the community and used political pressure to raise $150,000. The board voted unanimously to keep LEP High open.
LEP High is still going strong. Adam believes it is important to influence mindset from an early age. He states, “People get very used to someone else telling them that they are successful. They get used to someone else putting the parameter or structure around that. It almost seems too scary to be able to do that yourself. If you get them while they are young, they get a lot more comfortable leading a life that has risk in it every day. When you start younger, there is a level of risk that they get used to and it doesn’t paralyze them or hold them back.” It also doesn’t hurt that these kids don’t have to worry about things like a mortgage or supporting a family and they can pursue their thirst and zest to be empowered.
Adam hopes to eventually have a storefront space, a strong LEP Venture fund (seed fund), and more opportunities for tangible, entrepreneurial experiences for his students outside of the classroom. He wants to see students exposed to start-up incubators and the entrepreneurial culture in Portland. Why is this important? Adam explains that “99 percent of the people around you aren’t entrepreneurs and they think you are insane, stupid, and irresponsible . . . they’ll tear you down. You have to surround yourself with people who have the mentality that failure is a good thing; let’s not give up . . . all those lessons that entrepreneurs learn. You have to flip what you learn in the common world on its head.”