REAL (Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning) was developed in the early 1980s by Dr. Jonathan Sher and Dr. Paul DeLargy in North Carolina and Georgia respectively. REAL began by developing school-based businesses in rural North Carolina as a way to introduce entrepreneurship as a career option for high school students.
Drs. Sher and DeLargy built the REAL curriculum around the Experiential Learning Cycle to make learning fun, student-centric, memorable, and actionable. They began training instructors in how to facilitate entrepreneurial education and integrate it within their larger curriculum. As REAL began to take shape as an organization, heavy emphasis was placed on providing ongoing support to organizations and REAL facilitators.
In the 1990s, REAL began partnering with community colleges, both in curriculum programs and continuing education. In North Carolina, the community college network of Small Business Centers adopted REAL as the curriculum of choice for use in teaching new business owners and counseling owners of existing and expanding businesses.
A Spanish version of REAL was developed in the early 2000s, and by 2007, REAL had begun to expand youth programming throughout elementary and middle schools, as well as through a summer camp program that has been adopted by schools, colleges, and community organizations across the country.
From 2009-2012, REAL curriculum developers designed three sets of specialized curricula for target markets in Professional Craft Arts, Agriculture, and Healthcare. These curricula were piloted in art, agriculture, and healthcare settings, and all were enthusiastically received.
In addition to these programs, a K-8 elementary/middle school curriculum, a school-based enterprise curriculum, and a summer entrepreneurship camp program were introduced. A set of "Rapid Response Modules" were also created to assist business technical assistance providers in communicating important business concepts to small groups or in one-on-one settings.
From its earliest beginnings, it didn't take long for educators and others to notice REAL's reach and effectiveness. REAL quickly grew to other states, eventually being taught in 43 states. Foreign educators took notice, as well. REAL is currently being taught in nine foreign countries (soon to be ten!).
Each year, more than 12,000 students are taught by over 1,400 REAL-certified facilitators. These students go on to start businesses that are the backbone of their communities. What begins as an idea in a REAL Entrepreneurship class can become an economic driver for a small town.
Of course, some students decide along the way that entrepreneurship is not the path for them. We consider that a positive outcome that's just as important as a successful business startup. It's good for students to learn how hard starting and operating a successful business can be. Those who make the decision to go another way have likely saved themselves a great deal of hardship and financial cost.
By 2015, NC REAL Enterprises, Inc. (the parent organization and primary developer of the REAL curriculum) was experiencing financial difficulty due to cutbacks in education funding at the state and federal levels, as well as deteriorating foundation grant sources. The decision was made to cease operations by the summer of 2015. This prompted The Sequoyah Fund, Inc. to step in and take action to rescue REAL, preserving the proven products that had been developed by dedicated educators and business experts over the last 30 years.
The Sequoyah Fund, Inc. is a certified Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) located in Cherokee, NC. Their CEO, Russ Seagle, had become a REAL facilitator in 1999 while serving as the Small Business Center Director for a local community college. By the time he arrived at The Sequoyah Fund in 2009, the rest of the Sequoyah Fund staff had become certified to teach REAL.
The Sequoyah Fund made a significant investment in their community by funding the REAL certification of nearly 50 local high school and middle school teachers and administrators who were integrating entrepreneurship education into everything from language arts to theater to math to physical education.
The Sequoyah Fund board of directors saw the importance of REAL's continued survival and development, and purchased the intellectual property assets of NC REAL Enterprises, Inc. in June of 2015. With a commitment of resources, new products can be developed, new markets pursued, and new facilitators trained to boost the economic development efforts of their communities.
New products are currently in development in the areas of
Sequoyah Fund is also working on repackaging some of the most popular curriculum activities for different applications, primarily for use in professional and trade associations, chambers of commerce, community organizations, and correctional facilities. Our aim is to make REAL the most approachable and widely used entrepreneurship curriculum in use.
REAL is currently in use in K-12 schools, post-secondary educational institutions (including a few MBA programs), community-based and economic development organizations, small business development centers, and business incubators and accelerators.
REAL has a rich history, and the talented people who helped develop this robust curriculum over a 30 year period have set a high bar for future development. We are looking forward to continuing the work of moving students from merely job seekers to job creators, and moving communities toward more entrepreneurial economies.