MECC'S IMPACT ON MINNESOTA "ENTREPRENEURIALISM": WE NEED TO JUMPSTART MORE MECC'S & MORE RE@L'S! OUR SCHOOLKIDS ARE WAITING!

WVHoFInduction_050516_121SMALLIf you are up on your knowledge on K12 EdTech news, you know that the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) was recently touted by the national media for its world-famous Oregon Trail software learning game being inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

This accolade, while it took 40 years to happen, is a perfect example of the result of teaming “thinkers and doers” from all segments of Minnesota’s enterprise-building entities: private, public and government.  MECC begain as a startup consortium as a result of the State of MN’s response to a new vision for startup businesses focused on kids, teacher and parents using computing technology in schools and homes.  The result was astounding in its success. Read on.

DaleRE@L002Can we learn from this historical success? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Here’s why, as told by one of the founders of MECC, Dale LaFrenz, former President of MECC, and now Chairman of the Board of RealExperiencesAtLife.com (RE@L).

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Dale’s “Vision-Keeping” story:

“MECC was created by a coalition of visionaries from state government (including elected officials  a forward-looking governor and open-minded legislators; local tech industry representatives (Honeywell, Control Data Corporation, Univac…) and the telephone-network system. The education sector was well-represented by K-12, and higher-ed, including both public and private institutions.

The MECC design/plan unknowingly led to following the “Crown Corporations of Canada” model used to promote local start-up initiatives. Such Crown Corporations, funded and owned by the government, are created to compete with the private sector and become profitable. The intent is to “fuel” the development of an industry that the government has determined to be in the best interests of their province. In Canada, by design and law, successful Crown Corporations are sold to private industry. That was not the case in MECC’s state charter, but it was definitely the way it played out!

MECClogoMECC envisioned the educational computing industry as we know it today. Many other entities prospered from the growth generated. The culminating event was the industry rollup of MECC and the many companies spawned by MECC. The rollup company took the name “The Learning Company.”  The new company was sold to a large and very well-known public business entity – Mattel, Inc. The vision of this venture became reality.

Here’s just some of the returns on the original investment in MECC:

  • There was 5 X ROI (cash) when MECC was sold to new investors. 
  • MECC made its entire software library available at no cost to all MN schools for 5 years after selling the Corporation.
  • Hundreds of jobs were created in Minnesota and across the country. New businesses were created to sell, install and maintain the timesharing and micro-computer hardware that schools bought to run the library of MECC software.
  • The MECC software business became a Minnesota business industry itself. Many new jobs were created in the growing company – becoming the national leader as the MECC licensing swept across the country and Canada.  Even Japan was involved.
  • MECC was also an initial purveyor of the hardware needed to support its software. MECC originally purchased hundreds of teletypewriters (TTY) and related telecommunication equipment for MN schools.  This ensured access to MECC’s leased long-distance phone lines connecting to remote mainframe computers.  As computer timesharing spread across the country schools purchasing TTY’s created demand for private dealers to supply these new devices, the modems to connect the devices with remoted computers, and all related services. Again, MECC was a major part of building a whole new industry for Minnesota and for the U.S.
  • MECC.15-300x199Exciting for many of us was MECC’s later purchase of  5 Apple II desktop microcomputers from Steve Jobs and his then small startup company called Apple Computer. Working with the two Steve’s – Jobs and Wozniak, MECC played a significant role in launching the personal computing device industry as we know it today. MECC never wanted to be in the hardware business but circumstances caused MECC to become an early-on largest Apple dealer.  Soon after the schools began buying microcomputers of all varieties, a whole new computer dealer business emerged allowing MECC to revert to selling software. The educational computer revolution was in full swing. Virtually every school and student in the U.S. has access to computing technology today.
  • Another ground-breaking initiative was partnering with a national network of Education Service Agencies (ESA).  ESA’s provided one-on-one help to teachers so the new software could be used effectively. MECC provided tips and tools that tied the new software to existing curriculum requirements. ESA’s provided the teacher training in workshops across the country. It worked like the proverbial charm. The teachers loved it and so did the students. 
  • MECC created a new genre of jobs in the brand-new world of education software development; MECC’s staff grew to more than 200 employees. Moreover, MECC was the prototype for dozens of other new software startups across the country. The result was many new jobs that attracted young people, both men and women, to become part of this exciting, new industry. 

The returns on this wise investment are still being spent today. But more is needed!

RE@L1 logo_Corp_color_RGB-high-REZThe question we now pose to our state and national leadership, our superintendents of K12 schools, our higher-ed leaders, our technology entrepreneurs, is this: Why not try  the MECC Model again? The visionaries who have faith in our future are still out there. The new teams that can make it happen are ready to go. Are we?”

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Thanks for the insights, Dale, and for being the vision-keeper! 

Let’s not forget who the real winners will be if we can repeat this venture! RE@L knows who they are: It’s our young learners, of course.

Our students must be well-educated with today’s tools in order to be tomorrow’s visionaries.

RE@L is ready. Any takers out there ready to team with our visionaries?

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Please email your comments or questions to:  comments@realexperiencesatlife.com

Click on the our RE@L Blue Globe below for more information on RE@L:

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.