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Making The Most Of Youth Entrepreneurship Programs

by: Patricia Clahar

The benefits of entrepreneurship programs for kids and teens are plentiful. When starting a business, students are challenged to manage a project-based activity, use academic skills to solve real-world problems and develop their soft skills.

But not all programs are created equal. If your school or youth organization has an entrepreneurship program or is thinking about implementing one, here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure that you’re tapping into the full potential of a program like this.

Are You Creating Entrepreneurs Or WANTrepreneurs?

One of the first barriers that students generally need help with is generating business ideas. Most programs address this in some way or another. After that, it’s not uncommon for students to write a business plan. Some programs go even further and organize pitch competitions.

These are all great steps in the right direction. The downside is that many programs end at this phase and that can give young people the wrong impression about what entrepreneurship is. There are tons of people who have had business ideas, done research, written business plans and told anyone who will listen about their ideas. But if that’s all that they’ve done, they’re not entrepreneurs. They’re WANTrepreneurs.

Students need to understand that coming up with an idea, writing a business plan and pitching your idea isn’t entrepreneurship. Turning your idea into something real and then selling it – that’s entrepreneurship. Programs should have the goal of helping every student turn their idea into something tangible. Otherwise, your program is only creating wantrepreneurs, not entrepreneurs.

Discussing the importance of feedback with New Jersey youth empowerment group Girls Of Decision.

Would A Complete Stranger Pay Money For That?

The next challenge that students often need help with is creating something that they can sell: a product or service. If a student wants to build a business, they need to create something of value that even a complete stranger would pay money for. So it’s important to remind them that as a business owner, their opinion about their product or service is not the only opinion that matters.

Students need to understand the role of feedback and refining in the entrepreneurship process. Creating a product or service is an iterative process. No one gets it exactly right the first time. The first product/service that they make should be scrutinized by family, friends, mentors, classmates, teammates, whoever they think represents their target market or has a valuable opinion. And then they need to create version 2.0 and, maybe later on, version 3.0.

Students who skip this process will likely struggle to find buyers beyond their friends and family because their product is just a first draft, not a tested and refined final product. Make sure they understand that the goal isn’t just to make a product. The goal is to make the best product possible so that even a stranger can see the value in it.

Did You Make Any Money?

The next big milestone is collecting the first hard-earned dollars. This is usually when students really get excited about entrepreneurship. It’s also when a lot of students hit roadblocks because they generally don’t know much about how or where to sell.

If your program encourages students to sell on their own, make sure they have the necessary tools to succeed. If they’re planning to sell online, they have to learn some basic skills first. Yes, kids are tech savvy these days, but that doesn’t mean that they’re versed in online marketing and sales practices like using hashtags and calls-to-action. And if students are going to sell face-to-face, prepare them for that as well. Take a look at my tips for face-to-face sales for a few suggestions.

Programs that culminate in a popup market for students to participate in can be tons of fun. But remember that students shouldn’t leave your market thinking that their journey is over. They should leave thinking about what’s next. At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about building something that is sustainable and can grow over time. It’s a long game. But if you present entrepreneurship as a short game, that’s the way students will always perceive it.

Take Action

If your school/organization has an entrepreneurship program for kids/teens, congratulations! You’re a unicorn! A lot of communities don’t have access to these types of programs at all. But don’t get too comfortable. There are probably several ways that you can tweak your program to really make the most of it and give kids a more accurate impression of what it means to be an entrepreneur.

If your community doesn’t have a program like this, there’s no time like the present to change that. And if you’re still not convinced that entrepreneurship is an invaluable experience for students, make sure you check out my last blog post – Entrepreneurship Programs in Schools: Do Students Need Them? – where I discussed a few of the most compelling reasons why more students need more access to this type of education.


Patricia Clahar is the founder of Hands-On Entrepreneurship for Kids. She provides support via an online coaching program to kids/teens who want to start or grow their businesses. She also offers in-school presentations and helps schools/organizations to implement entrepreneurship programs that meet their specific needs.

Patricia holds a BA from Harvard University ('98), an MBA from Columbia Graduate School of Business ('03) and has been an educator for over 12 years.




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