How Can We Cultivate Youth Entrepreneurship in America?
This much repeated adage is true of every age and generation: “What are we doing to prepare the youth of this generation to be the leaders of the next?” As a father, a coach of a middle school football team, and the founder of a student entrepreneurial training program, I have seen over and over again that today’s youth are being shaped by the challenges they face. Often, I see youth who are overcoming their obstacles with incredible ingenuity, but they can also be crushed by the pressures of our demanding age. Struggle is the birthplace of innovation, but one must be prepared with the right tools to overcome adversity.
Through my experiences of training youth as entrepreneurs, I have witnessed that the entrepreneurial process strengthens the innate ability to create solutions. This ability must be intentionally honed and fostered by first recognizing the talents that a young person possesses, then training that young person to apply his or her talent towards specific goals, and finally, challenging him or her to rely on those strengths while in pursuit of success.
What do entrepreneurs and pro athletes have in common?
The importance of the training process for a young entrepreneur may be understood better when compared to another intensive training practice. America’s three sports deities, the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) (I’m a fan of them all!) together represent one of the most highly revered talent pools in the United States. Each franchise, regardless of the sport, has a clear focus. They all set expectations and invest their capital with one goal in mind: winning. They must have a clear plan set in place to achieve their goal.
Players are not expected to win games based on raw talent alone. First, the right players must be selected for the sport. Participation at the professional level is highly selective, so to reach that point, a player’s natural ability must be recognized early on. This leads to a training process, sometimes beginning as early as 5-years-old or younger, and it typically involves a coach who has the experience to recognize and groom talent to its full potential.
Who are those talent identifiers for potential entrepreneurs? What traits should they look for? Are those who teach in our classrooms, minister to our children, and serve as counselors at summer camps trained to recognize innate entrepreneurial abilities? How do you groom innovative entrepreneurial talent?
These questions often seem unanswerable, but the truth is our youth are in need of a better plan for their education. To make success possible, we must not leave them to fend for themselves, but rather understand and implement the steps that are necessary to guide them to their goals. Here are three big things we can do:
1. Identify Entrepreneurial Incubators
I believe entrepreneurial incubators, particularly in the United States, already exist as: schools, community organizations, places of worship, and the ever-growing socially-networked global community. Many are in need of the proper equipment such as technology and training, which is why StartingUp Now was created – to serve as a resource for cultivating entrepreneurs within the classroom or in small group settings. I am convinced that by providing educators with solution-based tools designed to create operational businesses, a crop of well-trained entrepreneurs can be seeded, sown, and harvested in their own communities.
2. Expect Success
In order for these tools to be effective, students and their teachers must see the skills they are learning as equipment to achieve real goals, not hypothetical ideas that will never be applied. This begins with a fundamental belief that the student can indeed, with training, operate a business. An athlete’s training would never be restricted to studying the playbooks with no intention of playing them on the field. Training connotes expectation. Train for success.
Within the context of football, a team practices all week – often twenty hours or more – to play for a total of sixty minutes. The team is often able to quickly learn if their conditioning (preparation), game plan (business plan), and outcome (achieved goals) resulted in a win or a loss. It is also absolutely necessary, regardless of a win or a loss, for the team to review the game film with their coaches to improve each week. Failures must not be seen as defeat, but as a lesson – an obstacle to overcome and be strengthened by.
3. Seek Challenge
In teaching youth that they are capable of success, we must provide the bridge between lessons in the classroom and real life application. Student run businesses give youth the opportunity to put their learning into action while their skills are still in the formative process. Young entrepreneurs must learn through application whether their plans and strategies can create the intended outcome. Their network will multiply as they create new relationships, solve business trials, and begin to see difficulties as opportunities to be solved. Their entrepreneurial mindset is shaped by their successes and failures, and their resolve increases as a result of practicing their ability to overcome.
While future entrepreneurs are still young and need the assurance that others – their “coaches” – will be there to assist with their businesses and personal development, they must be allowed to grow. We can all serve as entrepreneurial instructors, and in that role, must learn to coach the business – not control the business. In this way, students discover the power of decision-making and the implication of poor choices. These experiences mold them as future business leaders.
These steps are necessary, because our youth depend on their leaders to prepare them for the challenges they will face. Entrepreneurship is a valuable gift that we can bestow upon our youth, not only equipping them to support themselves as individuals, but to better contribute to the future of our society and our world. The experience of a startup business provides ownership and accomplishment, allowing for a goal they set and achieve, and serves as a platform for other students to emulate.
Through the rigors of operation, youth learn that business is dependent upon their reputation, providing ample opportunity to learn the golden rule – treat others as you want to be treated – and the benefit thereof. By growing young entrepreneurs with values that exceed their own self-interest, we intrinsically train these future leaders that operating a successful business requires service to their family, community, country, and others under their influence.