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!