Economic Development Starts in Kindergarten

by May 4, 2017Economy, Society

Greg Malkin

In 2005, Greg founded the Young Entrepreneur Institute, which focuses on K-12 entrepreneurship education. Greg has won numerous awards for his work including the Teacher of the Year by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship; National Federation of Small Business (NFIB) Entrepreneur Educator of the Year; and the Leavey Award for Excellence in Private Enterprise Education.


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Most new jobs are created by small businesses (66% according to the SBA).  How do we get those businesses to launch in our urban neighborhoods? There are many hurdles to overcome in starting a business but the biggest is the leap of faith it requires.

A Leap of Faith

The one ingredient that every business needs is an owner that believes they can do it.  Simple as that. Money helps. Education helps. Skills help. But without faith in one’s abilities, without the belief that one can be independent, a person will never make the leap to business ownership.

Experience Can Narrow That Leap

For many adults, starting a business is a mysterious and scary proposition, a leap into the unknown. The media touts the huge successes and spectacular failures. The everyday, mundane aspects are rarely portrayed in movies, TV, or print. But if someone has experience starting a business, especially with guidance and support, the mystery is removed. Repeat that experience multiple times and that leap becomes a small step.

Owning Your Life

According to an Aspen Institute study, “a sense of ownership in their lives was four times higher for alumni of youth-entrepreneurship programs.” Taking ownership of one’s life, taking responsibility for one’s actions, is critical to lifelong success. Youth entrepreneurial experiences provide an opportunity to acquire this perspective. Not everyone will become an entrepreneur.  But the soft and hard skills learned through entrepreneurial experiences help prepare young people for a productive and independent adulthood.

Business is Fun!

What’s the best age for kids to have their first entrepreneurial experiences? Young Entrepreneur Institute has successfully engaged students as young as five! Running a lemonade stand with a friend is fun! There are many important skills learned from a simple lemonade stand but one key is the positive feeling associated with the experience. This positive experience has been shown to increase students’ engagement with other aspects of their education like math and writing.

A Lemonade Stand is Just Like a Big-Box Store

Have you ever visited the classic American lemonade stand, the one with a couple of young kids selling lemonade on their street? How can such a simple business compare to a big-box store?  To launch their nano-business, the young people had to deal with pricing, location, product selection, marketing, customer service, and more. These are issues the typical big-box store manager faces as well, just with a few more digits in the amounts and a few more people impacted.

Financial Literacy is a Natural Outcome

Youth entrepreneurship also teaches a number of hard skills, most prominently financial literacy. Understanding concepts like revenue, profit, assets, credit, savings, and interest rates is a natural part of the entrepreneurial experience. This understanding pays dividends for the rest of these young people’s lives.

Art of the Pitch

Being able to succinctly and persuasively tell your story is another hard skill that is learned through entrepreneurial experience.  Answering the simple question, “Tell me what you’re selling today?” provides a child with an opportunity to practice this skill.

More than Lemonade Stands

There are many great youth entrepreneurship programs that provide the curriculum, support materials, and experience necessary for student success.

  • The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) focuses specifically on urban, disadvantaged youth.
  • Junior Achievement has a wide range of programs to engage youth in entrepreneurial experiences.
  • Selling Bee is an ideation and pitch curriculum and competition for kids as young as five years old.
  • Wildfire Education has adapted Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad into a broadly applicable problem-based learning methodology for high schools.

But the lemonade stand is still a great basis for entrepreneurial learning and experience.

  • Prepared4Life, with its Lemonade Day program, has created detailed curriculum for parents and teachers that builds on the classic lemonade stand, and is used by almost a quarter of a million kids every year.

It Takes a Village

Actually, it takes an ecosystem to make a difference in thousands of children’s lives. “Northeast Ohio has one of the strongest, if not the strongest, youth entrepreneurship ecosystems in the world,” noted Steve Mariotti, founder of NFTE. Events like Enspire, a conference for participants in the youth entrepreneurship ecosystems, have solidified the collaborative nature of the region’s ecosystem. And it takes funding. Fortunately, Northeast Ohio has a tremendous catalyst in the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. Their support at all levels of entrepreneurship – youth, collegiate, and adult – has been central to the region’s success.

The Bottom Line

It’s never too early to expose kids to entrepreneurial experiences! If you’re interested in urban economic development, I encourage you to come to Northeast Ohio, check out www.youngentrepreneurinstitute.org and see for yourself.

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