Amy Rosen says anyone can learn to be an entrepreneur if they have the heart and passion for it.
Rosen looks to ignite this passion at a young age. She is president and CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, an organization that brings its entrepreneurial training to high school students, especially those from low-income communities. The goal of this training is to inspire students to stay in school, recognize business opportunities and plan for successful futures. In Northeast Ohio, we have an affiliate of NFTE in Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). This connection resulted from YOU’s merger with E CITY.
“All we do is open their eyes to what is possible and they just jump at it,” Rosen says. “We take what might be their actual street smarts and develop them into business smarts — the translation is there.”
Smart Business sat down with Rosen at the 2011 Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum to discuss how teaching entrepreneurial skills in schools can help students to achieve both financial and personal success in the future.
Q: Why is it important for youth in inner city and urban areas to be taught entrepreneurship?
First of all, I would argue that it’s something that belongs in American schools forever. It is somewhat bizarre that we are a country founded on small business, that all net growth jobs are coming from businesses that have been in existence for five years or less, that our economy is so dependent on it, and yet we don’t think that there’s a place to talk about these things — and even talk about money — in public schools.
Every young person should graduate high school with the basic skills to make reasonable financial decisions about how to invest in their education, how to invest in their life and ultimately to be able to think like an entrepreneur about their lives — that’s what’s going to allow them to find their own path.
Even for people who aren’t going to be entrepreneurs, meaning they aren’t going to own their own company, they are (likely) going to work in companies of 30 or less. In 30 or less companies, you have to think like an entrepreneur. ... They don’t have HR people, so whatever you do, you have to be taught to think in that kind of way.
Q: What traits define entrepreneurs?
The common trait that we see in many young people who ultimately become entrepreneurs is that they’re comfortable with the ambiguity of risk. They are extremely determined, and there’s an idea that they believe in that they can stay laser-like focused on and also be resilient.
It’s one of the reasons that a lot of kids from low-income communities make such natural, good entrepreneurs. They had to be so resilient. You have to be able to go through failure to reach success. (In) this economy, all these young people are going to have to figure out their own pathways of success. It’s going to require that kind of thought more than it ever has.
Q: How do you teach traits and skills necessary to be a successful entrepreneur?
In addition to business plans, all of our kids do pitches. They start with a 30-second to 60-second pitch around their business. We bring volunteers into the classroom or we bring our students into their businesses and we have them pitch them. That interaction ... makes it relevant to them as an individual and appreciates their individuality. This really starts getting their ears and eyes open.
We had a young person this year who won our national competition who had a brilliant idea. It’s being patented. I have no question that she — and she’s 15 years old, by the way — will be an enormous success. She had all the brainpower to think like an entrepreneur, (but) her issues were in presentation. She was very shy, very reserved, couldn’t look people in the eye. Three months before that national competition, I saw her do her pitch in L.A. and I thought, ‘This kid is going nowhere.’ We had volunteers, mentors, our team people working with her. She came to New York in front of the leading entrepreneurs of this country and she blew them out of the water. Kids can do that — they just have to be taught and practice. Somebody has to take enough interest to care about them.
How to reach: Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, (212) 232-3333 or www.nfte.com