solution

How are you entrepreneurial?

solution

Solving the problem in a different way

As I was reading The Element by Ken Robinson he brought up an interesting question about intelligence. He said we are asking the wrong question – instead of asking “How intelligent are you?” – He states we should be asking “How are you intelligent?” He claims that everyone is intelligent in their own unique way and I wholeheartedly agree! Having been an entrepreneur for several years and in working with many entrepreneurs on their businesses, I also agree that everyone is entrepreneurial in their own unique way. In that regard, we can use that same questioning in discovering in what ways an individual is entrepreneurial. I’ve heard the question, “Can Entrepreneurship be taught?” and of course I do believe it can be taught and I also believe that individuals are already entrepreneurial in some respects and that they need to be made aware of the attributes they have so that they can develop them further.

Here are seven characteristics to look at to see “how are you entrepreneurial”: 1) Passion – everyone has a passion for something, something that they love to do or want to spend time on. Since creating and running business is extremely hard work, passion is extremely important for an entrepreneur to have. So spend some time reflecting on what you love to do and find your passion. 2) Persistence – Not everyone is persistent in everything they do but remember when you were a kid and you wanted something from your parents – you were persistent – right?! Kids will persist with their parents until they get what they want. So somewhere and in someplace you were persistent you just need to think about when that was and why you were so persistent. Running a business has lots of highs and lows and if you aren’t passionate and persistent – it will most likely fail. 3) Diligence – Have you ever worked on something over time until you achieved it (remember how good that felt)– that is diligence. Running a business is hard work and if you don’t work on moving it forward by setting goals and working to achieve them you won’t get very far. 4) Resiliency – have you ever failed at something, learned from it and then improved upon it? If you have, then you have resiliency – this is probably one of the most important entrepreneurial traits because there are bound to be failures and you need to learn from them and keep on going if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur. 5) Self-confidence – do you believe you can do anything you put your mind to? Sure you might have to study to learn something so you can achieve it but if you have that kind of confidence then you will be able to move forward when others criticize you or your product is not selling well. 6) Flexibility – Are you able to make changes if something is not going your way? Entrepreneurs need to be flexible and make changes or look for another solution if something is not working. 7) Opportunist – in that I mean someone who looks for opportunities and goes for it. Some would choose risk-taker as #7 but as I grew up in entrepreneurial family and my parents were not huge risk-takers and I myself am not a huge risk-taker; I don’t see this as important. Seeing a problem and turning it into an opportunity is much more important. Look around for problems that need solving and start thinking about how you would solve them and how you could help others with the solution. This is the start of a successful entrepreneur and I believe wholeheartedly that the more you do this, the more you can see opportunities in abundance.

Again it’s not a matter of how entrepreneurial you are but, how are you entrepreneurial! Just take some time and think about these 7 traits and start developing them if you want to become an entrepreneur.

Young Entrepreneur Lemonade Stand

There is never a PERFECT Time to Start a Business

girl-lemonade-standStarting a business is a lot like starting a family; if you wait for the time be perfect – it will never happen. They are both huge commitments in time, energy and emotion and that commitment will last for years. When I was 27, I started my first “real business” – an accounting services firm for small to medium businesses. I was fortunate to have an investor and a partner. This allowed starting the business with an actual office space, hiring a firm to develop our brand identity and many other things that a small startup might not afford. Today as I am starting my 2nd “real business”, I am bootstrapping and starting it as I work a full-time day job. So in both cases, how did I know the time was right? I’m not sure you ever know that it is 100% right. When starting a business (as with starting a family) you have to take a leap of faith. You are going into the unknown; the only thing you do know is that many others have gone before you and they survived and many even flourished. One thing I think about when starting a business is the future – what is my goal in 3-5 years and will starting a business help me get there; in both cases my answer was yes.

Here are 6 questions to think about to know if it is the right time for you. 1) What is your plan for 3-5 years and will a business help you get there (in my current business case –my plan is to retire from my day job so that I more freedom and can do what I really love to do) which brings me to #2. 2) Is there something that you have a passion for, that you are good at, that people need (and therefore will pay money for)? It’s not good enough to have a passion – you have to create services and products for others that will solve a problem or you will not make enough money to grow and sustain a business. 3) Do you have the time and energy to commit to working on the business? For example, it’s Sunday morning and here I am writing this blog; I wrote my book on night and weekends (you get the picture). 4) Does your family support you? I like the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”; you cannot start a business without the support of those close to you. 5) Do you have some savings or cash flow that will help fund your start-up costs?  No matter how much you bootstrap your business, there will be costs. In my current business, I’m using a home office and I already had a laptop and printer but you will need a website (if you want to reach a large audience), funds to develop products, funds to publish and edit a book, etc. The amount can vary greatly and if you have a good credit rating you may be able to get a microloan but it does take some amount of money to start your business. 6) Do you know where to find help for the things you are not an expert in? No matter how much we would like to think we can do it all – we can’t! You need to network with other entrepreneurs to learn from them and find out who helps them with services you might need. It’s a bit daunting at first but I have found that entrepreneurs love to share their knowledge! You can also check out your local resources such as the Small Business Development Center, SCORE or Women Business Centers – they all help start-up and growing businesses; sometimes at no cost to you (they are funded by the SBA).

So even though there might not be a PERFECT time to start a business, there is a right time. If you are ready to take the leap of faith and start-up, just be prepared for some of the most exciting and challenging times of your life (sounds like being a parent doesn’t it)!

This blog was written by Julie Ann Wood – author of More Than a Lemonade Stand™ and creator of the Biz Ops Game™; for more information visit www.eseedling.com.

What’s Your Customer Mantra?

 

We love our customers

Every week should be customer service week

In 1984 the International Customer Service Association (ICSA), which since merged with PACE, created and launched National Customer Service Week™. On October 8, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed Presidential Proclamation 6485 establishing the first week of October as National Customer Service Week™. (Source: http://www.paceassociation.com/p/cm/ld/fid=457).  Don’t you think that every week should be customer service week?

Who do you prefer to do business with?

You might be wondering why I’m touching on this subject today –let’s just say that I’ve had a mixture of good and bad customer service in the past week. I started off my week with a not so good customer experience (but fortunately had several good ones during the week). It started out with my working on a tradeshow that I am attending an upcoming in another state (remain unnamed). I needed to complete the tax registration for collecting sales tax in that state so I completed the form, the best I could. I still had a few questions so I called their hotline number and found out they aren’t open on weekends (open Mon-Friday 8:30 am – 4:30 pm) – okay I can accept that. Monday morning I called right at 8:30 am – closed due to President’s day (are state offices supposed to be closed?!). Tuesday morning again I called right at 8:30 am – closed due to inclement weather (ugh)! Wednesday morning again I called right at 8:30 am – 3 minute wait time – finally I get a person who didn’t sound thrilled to be there when she answered the phone. I explained the situation and she told me the answers were in the instructions for the form and that she couldn’t go through the entire form with me. I read the instructions no less than 5 times and I only had 4 questions!! Anyway, she finally did answer my 4 questions and I sent off my form; crossing my fingers that the form is filled out correctly and that I will get my tax registration in time for the show. I’m sure all of you have had experiences like this. They are frustrating but are so easily avoided by some simple customer service procedures and processes put into place. So if you had a choice, is this someone you would like to do business with?

How can companies improve their customer service?

Since Customer service ranks as the #1 factor influencing how much a consumer trusts a company – it is definitely important for companies to pay attention to their customer service. (Source: http://blogs.salesforce.com/company/2013/10/customer-service-stats-55-of-consumers-would-pay-more-for-a-better-service-experience.html.) I actually think customer service is so important to creating a successful business that we actually include a whole section on customer service in our Youth Entrepreneur Camp curriculum. Here are some of things we teach the kids at the camp but can are applicable to any business.

1)    Everyone is responsible for customer service. This could be the person preparing the materials, answering the phone or setting up the room. It doesn’t have to be someone in direct contact with the customer – the important thing to note is the culture needs to focus on the customer and make sure everyone understands how their role touches the customer. You need to have a plan for dealing with customers (good and bad) and make sure it is communicated throughout the organization. You may want to create a customer service mantra – a short saying (such as Disney’s “Be Our Guest”) which is an easy way to infuse the culture into the organization. The Ritz Carlton Hotel has always been known for an exceptional customer experience; this story about the Ritz Carlton Hotel Amelia Island goes above and beyond: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-hurn/stuffed-giraffe-shows-wha_b_1524038.html

2)    First Impressions are crucial – you have a short time to make a first impression, so figure out the first thing you are going to do (how you will greet them, what your website will say about you, what your social media sites will contain), document them and train employees on them.

3)    Actively listen to the customer and communicate that to your team. The person directly communicating with the customer needs to listen to the customer and makes sure they communicate their requests to the rest of the team (If the team doesn’t know they can’t help).

4)    Have clear instructions that the customer can find easily. Okay I added this one after my experiences this past week. I neglected to say that I had some wonderful customer experiences this past week. Those included clear instructions on their websites with easy to find answers – their staff followed up quickly, answered my questions (pleasantly I might add) so that I could accomplish what I came to their business for. This certainly makes a world of difference. They definitely have my return business!

Now I challenge you to think of a customer mantra for your business and share.

Games Make Learning Fun!

Biz Ops Game

Biz Ops Game

There were 2 things this past week that reminded me how much I love using games as a learning activity. The first one was a webinar that I participated in from Zingerman’s Zing Train program on using Mini-games to train employees. The second was as I was putting the finishing touches on the Biz Ops Game™ (more on that in a bit). The Zing Train webinar reminded me how much fun it is to use games to engage employees when teaching them new concepts or trying to help them achieve a specific company goal. When you get everyone engaged and have fun doing it, it is much easier to have the learning stick and achieve the goal. I know this all too well – as in my graduate studies at UW-Madison I studied how video games are a great tool for teaching. But like any powerful tool that is new to the teacher – they need some time to get comfortable with it and to develop and implement it so that they can help learners achieve the outcome. Good games start with good design (as with any effective lesson). The good thing about games is they don’t have be complicated or extremely sophisticated to achieve the goal they are intended for.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when designing a simple game to achieve learning outcomes. 1) Know what your end goal is – what are the learning outcomes? Make a list of the learning outcomes and decide if a game can cover what’s on the list or if you need to focus on just a few of outcomes in the game. 2) Know what success looks like – what does the student need to be able to do or answer to prove that success was achieved in the game. In addition to the learning outcomes, it is important to have specific measures for success. 3) Create a story for the game- stories have a way of drawing the students in and will create a “safe” atmosphere so they aren’t afraid to fail which will help them to learn faster. In addition to the story, be sure to have a fun name for the game. 4) Decide how the game is played – (turn-based, facilitated, in teams, etc.). Think of games you have played and what made them fun and engaging – use these elements when you design your game. 5) Know how long the game will take (will it be one class period, several class periods or once a week for many weeks). 6) Create a scoreboard – students will have more fun if they compete with one another.  You may also want to have an overall scoreboard with an overall goal that everyone is contributing to. 7) Decide what the rewards will be – everyone likes rewards when they achieve a goal – it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, it can be something as simple as a sticker or badge or can be allowing them to choose the topic for a day, or choose the music at the beginning of class.

To demonstrate how to put these tips into action I’ll come back to the Biz Ops Game™. The game itself is based on a simulation that was used in UW-Madison SBDC Youth Entrepreneur Camp. The simulation was developed for high school aged kids and is longer and more in-depth than what I wanted to use as a short activity for camp or in the classroom. I also felt it could have a lot more learning built into the short time period for the activity so I have built them in. I also turned it into an actual game with a game board and more game elements than the original simulation. The Biz Ops Game™ is facilitated by an instructor and can be played in approximately 90 minutes (or 2 class periods). The learning objectives include learning: 1) how a small business operates 2) how working cooperatively can help increase the chances of business success 3) what roles are necessary to run a business and what each role entails 4) that planning is necessary to run a business 5) how listening to the customer will help you create a better product 5) that quality is as important as quantity and 6) how to create record financial transactions and create a simple financial report. The game is played in teams of 4or 5 who create their own air transportation company where they manufacture and sell paper airplanes. The team who makes the most profit by selling ethically is the winner. In order for them to win, they have to work well as a team, listen to customer specifications and fly their airplanes on a runway. The scoreboard consists of their financial record which includes how much they spend on business costs, quantity sold, sales dollars and their net profit. The teams are rewarded on each of these areas with a badge or sticker for their name tag that they can wear at camp to show others that they were successful. In a one week class the basic business startup and operations concepts are learned and practiced but the possibilities of using the game in the classroom can really serve as a base for additional learning on business operations, teamwork and financial record-keeping. Also, once the game mechanics are mastered, the game can be expanded into the students creating and selling their own products which will allow for much more creativity and fun while learning business operations.

The Biz Ops Game™ is currently being printed and manufactured and should be ready to ship by March 1st. For more information: opt in at www.eseedling.com

Finding Your Passion to Make Meaning

ElementMakeMeaning_edited-1When I start working with kids and adults on entrepreneurship one of the first things I work on is choosing a business idea that they will develop. They usually attend a class or a camp because they want to start a business and so it’s important to keep their excitement level high and help them to move forward. Some students know what they want to do but are not sure if it is the right idea and some students don’t even have an idea – they may have always wanted to start a business. The beauty of being an entrepreneur is that you can get to choose what you do and how you do it. To help figure this out we start with 3 questions: 1) Do you have passion for your business idea 2) Do you have competence (knowledge & expertise) for your business idea? and 3) Does it make meaning and solve a problem that people will pay for? Let’s break down the 3 questions.

 1)     Do you have a passion for your business idea? If it is something you are passionate about; you will want to spend time on it and it won’t seem like work. Ask yourself, is it something you like to do in your spare time or is it something you daydream about? Running a business is not easy and requires a lot of focus and hard work to make it successful so the more passionate you are about the idea, the more you will stay with it. Finding your passion is just part of it – you will want to go further and ask yourself if your natural ability compliments your passion. Think about a time when you were so immersed in an activity that time flew by and you didn’t even know it. Athletes sometimes refer to this as being “In the Zone”, Mihaly Czikszenthmihalyi refers to as Flow (recently this has been associated with video game players) and Sir Ken Robinson refers to as “The Element” (highly recommended reading for anyone involved in teaching). This YouTube video is an excellent explanation of what The Element is: http://youtu.be/mqOL20t0NF4. If you are having trouble coming up with a business idea, you might want to reflect on what your passions are and when you have been in your “element”.

2)      Do you have competence (knowledge or expertise) for your business idea? People trust others who are have expertise, competency and knowledge. They need to feel like they can trust you and without these things they are probably not going to do business with you. This doesn’t mean that this may not be a good business idea for you; it just means that you may need more training or experience to become competent. If that is your passion and you have innate ability or talent for it – then you will have the motivation to increase your knowledge or competency in that area. I recently attended a seminar where Stephen M.R. Covey, the author of the “The Speed of Trust” spoke. He talked about how trust starts with trusting yourself and that entrepreneurs are usually good at it. He then goes on to explain that both character and competency are important.  Here is a short YouTube video with a good explanation of trust from his leadership perspective: https://youtu.be/SgjSOzY86tI.

 3)     Does your business idea make meaning/ solve a problem? Guy Kawasaki, Author of the “Art of the Start”, states that most companies that set out to make meaning will make money but if they start out to make money, they will usually fail. Here is a short video in which Guy Kawasaki talks (to students at Stanford University) about making meaning in business http://youtu.be/lQs6IpJQWXc. Recently I read “all in startup” by Diana Kander (which I highly recommend for anyone thinking about starting a business). In the book she talks about solving problems. She talks about a minor headache problem vs. a migraine sized problem. Migraine sized problems are the ones people are willing to pay money for. If people won’t pay money for your solution – then it isn’t a big enough problem and most likely not a viable business.

The answers to these 3 questions should help give you a start on finding a business idea that you are passionate about, uses your natural abilities and helps you make meaning in the world. Once your idea is chosen then it is time to get to work and become a business creator! (more on that in a future blog post).

 Here’s a quote from Ken Robinson that I think really describes what Element is:

“When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being. Being there provides a sense of self-revelation, of defining who they really are and what they´re meant to be doing with their lives.

– Ken Robinson

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Failure may be the Best Option

Success Or Failure Directions On A Signpost

 

Having a son who is a junior in high school means that college visits are on the family schedule. A few weeks ago, we toured a college where the Dean of Students told us something that really stuck with me. Since they are a private college, they have a requirement to have at least a 70% placement rate in all of their majors. He went on to tell us that it isn’t a struggle to obtain this but it is a struggle to get the graduates to apply. There are several reasons for this but he stated that one big reason is that the students are afraid to fail; they are afraid they will not get the job so they just don’t apply. At first, this shocked me, but then I started thinking about it – we are bringing our kids up in a world where everyone is a winner (are we doing them a disservice??).

When I was growing up, there were winners and losers; it wasn’t always fun but it was reality. We learned at young age if we wanted an award, we had to work hard and do our best work to get it. I didn’t even get my first trophy until I was over 30 years old (when everyone on the team got one too). Now we give everyone a trophy – my youngest son even got a trophy his first year of playing t-ball (along with everyone on the team) from his coach. The problem with making everyone a winner is that kids never learn resilience and the hard work that it actually takes to win. Don’t get me wrong, some kids do learn this at a young age and it isn’t always pretty. Being a scout leader for many years, I have seen my share of kids losing at the Pinewood Derby. There are few winners and many losers (and unfortunately many competitive parents who help their kids win). And of course, in sports (especially individual sports), there are always winners and losers. It is how we teach them to deal with losing that makes the difference.

Think of all the successful entrepreneurs, artists and sports people who have had multiple failures and still succeeded. If they hadn’t had the resiliency to keep trying, we would not even know their names or have benefited from their achievements. If you Google “Successful entrepreneurs (or people) that have failed,” you will get thousands of articles. This Business Insider article provides some insight of some of the people we are most familiar with http://www.businessinsider.com/successful-people-who-failed-at-first-2014-3 . Among them, a few of my favorites include Oprah (fired from her first television job), Walt Disney (who was told he lacked imagination) and Sir James Dyson (who went through 5,126 prototypes before creating the Dyson vacuum).  Can you imagine not having Oprah, Disneyland/World and Dyson vacuums?? Their resilience shows us that we can learn from failure and in fact, may have been the best option.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the decline of young entrepreneurs in the U.S. http://www.wsj.com/articles/endangered-species-young-u-s-entrepreneurs-1420246116 the article doesn’t give specifics on the reasons why, but eludes that financial challenges and a low tolerance for risk may be among the main reasons. Entrepreneurs rarely come up with the perfect idea or product, the first time out so they are forced to learn from their failures. If they have a low tolerance for risk whether it is financial or other and if young people are afraid to fail, then we may be facing a decrease in young entrepreneurs for quite some time. But if we can start teaching entrepreneurship at a young age and help them to learn that failure is okay and may actually be the best option for learning we may be able save this endangered species.

5 Myths of why teachers may not be teaching entrepreneurship

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to local 8th graders at a career day event. They asked a lot of great questions and were very engaged – I was very impressed with the school as they have a special program that helps kids who want to go to college. Many of the kids said it was their favorite class – it helps them with study habits, note taking and other things that will improve their chances of success. After the presentation, I spoke to the career director and asked if they taught entrepreneurship. She brought up some concerns about entrepreneurship which disturbed me and thus serve as the basis for this blog post.

Myth #1: Entrepreneurs don’t need an education.

-Nothing could be farther from the truth – in order to run a business; you not only need the knowledge in your area of expertise (which should definitely be at a very advanced level), you need math (for budgeting, projections, daily operations), accounting (minimum of a basic level), communication (both oral and written), and marketing knowledge including internet and social media marketing. You will need to know business operations, customer service and where to find the help you need at any given time. You also need to know your own strengths and weaknesses and how solve problems creatively. Are there successful entrepreneurs without a college education – of course there are but they are in the minority. A college degree also gives you credibility that you have acquired a certain level of knowledge. When you first start out – you will most likely have to bootstrap and run most of the business on your own (until you reach a certain level of sales so that you can pay others) so education is one key that will open doors!

Myth #2: Entrepreneurship doesn’t fit neatly in a box.

-I guess you could say that is true because it actually fits into many boxes. I can’t think of anytime in my life that I have learned more than when I was running a business. Since running a business includes knowledge from so many disciplines, you can incorporate it into almost any academic subject. In science, you definitely have to use creative problem solving. To figure out sales, costs and net income you utilize mathematics, to create a marketing message you need to read and write and to get your message across to customers you utilize both oral and written communication. Sure, it will take a little ingenuity to incorporate entrepreneurial activities into an existing curriculum (that is what the Biz Ops game does) and debrief around it – but won’t it be worth the effort when the kids are engaged and motivated to learn!

Myth #3: I’m not experienced as an Entrepreneur so how can I teach it?

-The good thing about entrepreneurs is that they are a group that loves to share their knowledge. Most entrepreneurs go into business to solve a problem and help others so they are more than willing to help out in the classroom (you just have to ask). There are also many non-profit organizations such the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, and Women Business Centers that are available to help with providing guest speakers on starting a business or business planning. For curriculum, Junior Achievement has developed curriculum that fits into different grades and there are many books and games available including More Than a Lemonade Stand and the Biz Ops Game that have already been classroom tested. So even though you may not have business experience, the resources are there to help you provide a unique classroom experience for your students.

Myth #4: Many new businesses fail – I don’t want my students to fail

It is definitely true that the majority of businesses fail within the first 3 years of opening their doors. There are also many reasons for this. One big reason is that many people go into business because they have a passion for something or a talent in something and don’t realize how hard it is to run a business. They don’t get the training they need to succeed in running the business and so it ends in failure.  Another big reason is that don’t test their idea before putting it into action. Just because you think it is a great idea, doesn’t mean people will pay for it.  It must be a big enough problem that people will part with their money before and buy it; so testing is crucial. If we can start teaching our students some of these entrepreneurial lessons at a young age, they will have less chance of failure if they start a business. Also, if we can teach them that failure is something that we can learn from and improve and move forward; our students will be more resilient when they do come across failure in their lives (which is inevitable).

Myth #5 – Becoming an Entrepreneur is only one career option.

        The great thing about teaching entrepreneurship is that they don’t just help kids learn how to run a business, they help them learn about their self, their passions and talents and how to utilize them to help others and create a better world for all of us. Isn’t that really what we all want – is a world of happy adults who contribute to our society in a positive way. Teaching entrepreneurship includes teaching innovation, creativity, collaboration, communication and problem-solving which are all 21st century skills that can be applied to any career path they choose (and employers will definitely appreciate the kids knowing them). The first step of becoming an entrepreneur is learning what your own unique gifts are and how you can make a difference. This increases their confidence and self-esteem and chances of success that may not have had in a traditional classroom environment. I have witnessed many middle-school aged kids come to camp change from a shy introverted kid and transform into a confident young business person communicating their ideas with passion in just one week. Knowing that they have this capability to make a difference using their unique gifts will help them in any career option they choose.

Entrepreneur Presentation

Compelling Reasons for Entrepreneurship at a Young Age

Entrepreneur Presentation

presenting at youth entrepreneur camp

Disengagement and Drop outs

I’m sure if you have a school-aged child, you have asked them “how was your day?”  The reply is usually (if they are a boy anyway), “fine”.  So of course you probe a bit more and you find out that in 3 of the 6 classes they watched movies.  It seems to be a Friday trend in some of my son’s high school classes.  “Oh,” I say, “they must be about what you are learning in class.”  He replies, “I’m not sure”.  Is that because he’s not paying attention or is the teacher not making the connection for him.   That is a question that may never be answered for me.  I really don’t remember being that many movies when I was in school – maybe I was napping at the time?! It does seem like there are a lot of movies and other non-related activities that are in our daily conversations enough so that I sometimes just have to wonder if they are just finding things to do to make sure they filling up the required hours that the kids have to attend public school.  Another thing I certainly don’t remember when I was in school; is sitting on one side of the table facing the librarian when they are using the library. Now these things may have changed since Columbine; but it sure seems like our schools have become more robot like, if not even more prison like.  From these statements, one might think I’m anti-education but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Both my undergrad and graduate degrees are in education and I truly believe that education is the key to opening doors in the future.  But, I see current high school as a game that you need to learn to play and beat in order to excel at it.  Many kids (including my son – who is an avid gamer) do not see any value in beating the game of school.  Unfortunately, I think there are many kids just like him that just get through it so they can get to the next phase of their lives.  Many of these kids are very bright, they just may not be good test takers, are bored, or just don’t see how it connects to real life. But even worse is there are 3.0 million (8.1% in October 2009) 16-24 year olds in the US that have dropped out and have not earned a HS diploma or GED (US Department of Education, Center of Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences).  Even worse is that as many as 1 in 10 young male dropouts end up in jail or juvenile detention compared to 1 in 35 of those who have graduated from high school (NY times, by Sam Dillon on October 8, 2009; based on a study at Northeastern University).

Youth Unemployment

In the NY Times article above, Andrew Sum –director for the center for labor market studies at Northeastern University ,  brings forth another problem and uses his own city of Gary, Indiana to illustrate what is happening for youth unemployment. He states, “Back in the 1970s, my friends in Gary would quit school in senior year and go to work at U.S. Steel and make a good living, and young guys in Michigan would go to work in an auto plant,” he said. “You just can’t do that anymore. Today, you have a lot of dropouts who are jobless year round.” In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that unemployment for youth ages 16-24 rose to 19.7 million in July 2013. Only 50.7% of that age group was employed in July 2013 at the peak of summer employment. The rate was even higher for the age group of 16-19 year olds and doesn’t look as if it will be improving in 2014.

Why Middle School?

I often get asked why do I love working with middle-school aged kids – to be honest, when I first started it was because I kind of fell into it – it was the program we had that I adopted and it was geared toward middle-school kids.  But now, that I look back on my life, I say it is the perfect age to learn about entrepreneurship – their minds are open to new ideas and change and they still believe that they can do anything. When I was in middle school, I made a decision that changed my life (although I didn’t realize until years later). I was born with club feet and my right foot was deformed and the Achilles tendon was much shorter on the right side. At age 3, I had an operation to lengthen my Achilles tendon and straighten my right foot. I wore leg braces until I was 8 years old and then continued with night braces and corrective shoes. Of course because of the braces, I was bullied when I was young. When I was in 7th grade, I overheard my mom and the doctor talking about what to do next. The doctor told my mom that he had done what he could and it was really up to me. They didn’t know I overheard them but it was it was the best thing that could have happened. I made up my mind that I was going to walk without using any correction and that is pretty much what I did.  I was fortunate to learn, at a young age, that I could do pretty much whatever I put my mind to and realize that others can learn at this age also.

How Youth Entrepreneurship can help

It is a time for transition – this is the time kids are finding their place and the more successful they are the more confident they will become. This is a time where kids might not feel as they fit in anywhere and entrepreneurship is about making their own place in the world.  Entrepreneurship connects the academic subjects with the real world.  When you learn about running a business you are using math, english, writing and science.  When I ran my business in my 20’s, I learned more during those 3 years than any other 3 year period in my life. Entrepreneurship allows kids to explore what they are good at and like to do as a viable career option. In school, they give kids all these assessments and then try to guide them into one of those “quadrants” as the only viable career areas.  This may or may not be something they are interested in or passionate about. Entrepreneurs are vital to today’s economy.  The Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that small businesses make up over half of the private workforce in the US. Yet many of the skills need to create successful entrepreneurs are not taught in schools. Entrepreneurship is about solving problems and creativity. In today’s world, we need problem solvers and the entrepreneurial mindset is about looking at problems and turning them into opportunities that we can solve to make our lives better. Entrepreneurship is about empowerment. When the kids come to the youth entrepreneur camp I run on the first day, many of them are timid and quiet, you can see the growth during the week and by the fifth day, they present their own business idea in front of their peers.  That is quite an accomplishment in one week.  They can take that accomplishment with them and realize they can do more than they may have thought possible.  Entrepreneurship is about giving back.  In the camp, we raise funds in the team lemonade stand competition for the camp scholarship fund so that kids who can’t afford to attend can have the same opportunity. Entrepreneurship is a career.  One of the most important things we teach is that entrepreneurship is a viable job.  So if you can’t get a job, you can create your own.  After all, if you have lemons, what do you do – make lemonade and then of course sell it!