Wednesday, February 15

Engineering Entrepreneurs: Start With Education

A few days ago, Anthony Delmedicofounder of The Little Green Money Machine and author of Kids In Business Around The World, gave a speech that he calls an "E2" during a Future of Entrepreneurship Education (FEE) Summit, which was held at the White House. His topic centered on an interesting idea: add entrepreneurship education as a core curriculum in our K-12 schools.

"While the nation's unemployment rate wavers close to 10 percent, for young adults, 16 to 30, the unemployment is closer to 26 percent. And in some cities, close to 40 percent," said Delmedico. "For those fortunate enough to earn a high school or college degree, very few are prepared for today's job market. Currently there are 2.4 million college graduates who cannot find jobs in their fields of study ... that's 80 percent."

Delmedico went on to say that America will need to create a net 21 million new jobs by 2020 in order to return to full employment. These jobs are unlikely to come from large companies. He rightly pointed out 75 percent of all jobs come from entrepreneurs with small companies. So, in order to create 21 million new jobs, Americans have be serious about creating new entrepreneurs, businesspeople whom he believes are sitting in classrooms today.

Delmedico is largely right. Early entrepreneurship is needed. 

While Delmedico's own marketing efforts sometimes seem tired and his book might be classified as motivational as much as it is business-minded, his heart and head are in the right place. Most curriculum is geared toward rudimentary skills to pass tests, perhaps prepare for college, and then on to learn theories that are supposed to help college graduates enter the job market and compete for jobs that don't exist.

The net result: a majority of young adults are unprepared to do anything except work for someone else. And, of those who are unprepared, most of them have never considered that they might be able to start their own businesses. It is very likely fewer young adults have entrepreneurial spirit because they have less experience given the government's ongoing war against lemonade stands, cupcake vendors, and other kid businesses.  

There is indeed an irony in that kids are allowed to peddle candy bars and merchandise for public schools or sports teams, but not themselves. And, right now, the Department of Labor continues to expand labor laws to prevent children from doing any work until the age of 16. Even then, there is a mountain of information to consider. 

Public education could be the right place to develop and rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit instead of ratcheting up legislation that nurtures dependency (e.g., young adults under the age of 21 must have proof of income or an adult co-signer; health insurance is poised to be extended until young adults turn 26). It might even be a catalyst to make a startup venture easier across the board. A turnkey program at public schools, perhaps as an elective to start, could even open the doors to make starting a business easier for young adults. Consider the possibilities. 

How introducing entrepreneurship reinvigorates students. 

By introducing an elective program into public education with various tracks, schools could provide a one-stop exemption for students to automatically receive all licenses, permits, etc. needed to start their own businesses.

Tracks could include a variety of alternatives such as invention (science and technology), service provision (for sales, like lemonade), arts and crafts (with an online component), engineering and architecture (manufacturing), etc. along with core components for bookkeeping, basic marketing, etc. In some cases, students with businesses that intersect could work together or create larger ventures that might be managed by several kids with a vested interest. And for the first time, many of these students will begin to understand why some basic information is important and applicable in their world.

More importantly, such a program could nurture what everyone wants these kids to exhibit despite not always being given the opportunity to learn: critical thinking and leadership skills. They can do it. Any student can. 

There are many studies that support the case that anyone can become a leader. In fact, most studies have concluded that no common traits (intelligence, birth order, socioeconomic status) nor characteristics (capacity, responsibility, participation) can distinguish non-leaders from leaders. What can be critical, however, is giving students leadership opportunities as early as possible so they develop confidence in becoming leaders later, people who can develop a vision, share that vision, value human resources, and become self-motivated.

Even if students who engage in an entrepreneurial program decide they do not want to start or manage a business as a result, such early experiences could still be beneficial to their future employers. At the same time, they might also gain an appreciation for small business employers.

Right. Starting a business can be challenging and rewarding, but it's also no easy task. It might even erase some of the growing disconnect between employers and employees if more people understood how taxes and regulations aimed at large employers tend to hinder small businesses the most.
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