Can Teaching Youth Entrepreneurs Save our Communities?

This is a question, I want you to reflect on as I illustrate the trend that is happening to small businesses in our communities.

How many of you have a favorite restaurant, coffee shop, fitness center or yoga studio in the community you grew up or that you live in now? The place where you go to celebrate with your family, friends, or kids sport teams or just get together for a weekend dinner. My guess is most of you do.

What if that business closed because the owner wanted to retire and couldn’t find anyone to take it over?

That is exactly what happened in my hometown in Oregon, WI when not only my favorite restaurant but pretty much the entire community’s favorite restaurant closed.

Maria’s Pizza was one of those special community places where teams, organizations and families gathered and where special memories were formed.

It was where my favorite lasagna lived, where I celebrated opening night with my local theater friends and where my kids’ sport teams celebrated their wins and losses.  Now the building sits lifeless and empty. Even in the close large city of Madison, WI, there have been several restaurants and businesses closing for that very same reason of the owners wanting to retire and they can’t find a suitable owner.  You are probably thinking that is no big deal because businesses close and new ones open – it’s just how it works.

But I want to let you know that this trend is causing this same issue in communities across our country.

What is behind the trend of Business Closures in our Communities?

  1. According to AARP, 10,000 Baby Boomers are turning 65 every day and this will continue through 2030.
  2. According the U.S. Census, 2/3’s of our small businesses are owned by those Baby Boomers nearing retirement.
  3. According to the California Association of Business Brokers, 12,000,000 businesses are likely to change hands in the next 10-15 years.
  4. And now with COVID-19, even more small businesses and restaurants are closing and those nearing retirement are calling it quits.

The question is can teaching youth entrepreneurs build the succession plan we need to fill the economic voids and save our communities before they turn into ghost towns?


At the same time as this is happening in our communities, our children are being prepped for standardized testing and college through our public-school systems.  This leads to disengaged students who are not learning real life skills with no real connections to the community businesses and local economy.

Since they don’t have the connection, they don’t realize the impact that the local economy has on their life. They are unaware that entrepreneurship is indeed a viable career option. Students don’t realize that there may be opportunities as an entrepreneur or small business owner in the community they are growing up in.

And now with COVID-19, kids are even less engaged as we are relying on parents and the students’ own discipline to continue their learning.

What ultimately happens? The kids study for the tests and go off to college seeking for something better.

The economies in many of these towns are already struggling as they not only have business space to fill but they have no one to fill them. If we don’t do anything different, our communities will turn into ghost towns and we will be forced to go elsewhere for even their basic needs.

And yet, at a recent Mayor’s conference, Mayor Christopher Cabaldon (mayor of North Sacramento) put it so powerfully:

“Entrepreneurs define the fabric of what life in a community is like and drive the health of the community.”

~Mayor, Chris Cabaldon


Communities need a solution to change the trend of what is happening We need entrepreneurs to run these small businesses! So where will they come from if we are not teaching youth entrepreneurs?

I propose that if we start mentoring and teaching youth entrepreneurs and connecting kids to the business owners in their communities, we can start creating the succession plan we need to keep our communities from becoming ghost towns.

Teaching youth entrepreneurs is not only about how to start and run a business, it also about creating the mindset to solve problems and look for opportunities to make the world better.  It’s about kids realizing and utilizing their own unique talents and skills to create something they are interested in and that they can make a difference. Teaching youth entrepreneurs is also about empowering kids and helping them to realize their purpose and that owning and running a business in their own community is not only a viable career option but that they have the power to solve the economic crisis that their community is facing.

“Today’s youth more than ever before is looking at how they can make a difference and so why wouldn’t we involve them in solving the problem.”

~Julie Ann Wood, Author

There are 2 additional benefits to entrepreneurship that I feel are reasons why we should be teaching youth entrepreneurs:

  1. According to the Lemonade Day report; for every 1 percentage point increase in entrepreneurship in a state, there is a 2 percent decline in the poverty rate.
  2. A recent study out of Baylor and Louisiana State Universities discovered that as the number of small businesses increased so did the health of the surrounding communities. Entrepreneurs actually have significantly lower incidence of physical and mental illness, visit the hospital less often, and report higher levels of life satisfaction.


So what can you do to help?

Here are 3 things you can start with:

  1. Become a role model or mentor for young entrepreneurs in your community. According to a recent Junior Achievement study – 20% of kids end up in the same career field as their mentors. If more entrepreneurs become mentors, we could increase the number of increase the number of entrepreneurs. To become a mentor, you could connect with your local school or youth organization(s) to see if there are any kids they know of that might be interested in entrepreneurship.
  2. Bring an existing program to your community. There are several options with varying levels of time and commitment. Here are 3 that I am aware of are that you could contact.  Junior Achievement, Lemonade Day & the Acton Children’s Business Fair.
  3. Start a youth entrepreneur program or camp that includes teaching youth entrepreneurs in your community. With the help of local entrepreneurs, chambers or other local business organizations, you could create your own curriculum or contact an organization that already has an existing curriculum such as Venture Labs, YE Academy or E-seedling.

Each of these options for teaching youth entrepreneurs including not only how to start a business, but also help them to create the entrepreneurial mindset and empower them to realize their potential. They will help kids realize that entrepreneurship is indeed a viable career option and that they have the power to solve the economic crises their communities are facing. They will also  give current entrepreneurs an opportunity to pass down their knowledge and leave a legacy of the businesses they worked so hard to build.

I recently read a quote from the former CEO of Girl Scouts that really struck me and solidified that our teaching youth entrepreneurs needs to be part of the solution.

She stated:

“Children are 25% of the population but 100% of our future.”

~Sylvia Acevedo, Former CEO of Girl Scouts


So, I want to leave you with a final thought and a question.

Remember that favorite business you thought about at the beginning of this post?

Think about what our communities might look like if we don’t start teaching youth entrepreneurs. Will our communities be turned into ghost towns? OR,  will you choose to mentor or bring a youth entrepreneurship program to your community so that you can help create the succession plan we all need to keep our communities thriving into the future?

Julie Ann Wood is the Chief Cultivator at E-seedling and the author of More Than a Lemonade Stand. She recently gave a TEDx talk focusing on teaching youth entrepreneurs. CLICK HERE TO watch her talk entitled: Entrepreneurship – Save Communities from Becoming Ghost Towns. You can learn more about the E-seedling curriculum and options for teaching at