Our lifetimes are filled with firsts that are forever etched in our memories. Who doesn’t remember their first kiss, first car or first job? Some of these memories are so fresh that we use them as the answers to our security questions.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll never forget your first business venture. Whether it was a rousing success or a dismal failure, you will always remember that moment you bravely struck out on your own.
This is particularly true if your first venture was a lemonade stand. The idea of mixing lemons, sugar and juice into a pitcher of water and making money is an irresistible challenge to many children. Sitting out on the front lawn on a hot summer day with your friends, waiting for passersbys to purchase a cold glass of lemonade, is capitalism at its best. And it certainly beats doing chores around the house or getting 50¢ to mow the lawn.
Am I getting nostalgic in my old age?
No. It’s May and the first weekend of the month is the weekend many communities celebrate National Lemonade Day. It’s a day that helps introduce the idea of entrepreneurship to our youth through a fun, experiential program that provides them with critical life skills that build character and instill confidence.
Why is this important to a community? If you are a rural community, there’s a good chance that Lemonade Day can determine the future of your city or town. The biggest export in rural America is our children. As such, it’s up to us as parents, educators and local economic developers to give our children a reason to stay in the community rather than move to an urban center after graduation. By starting and running their own businesses in the community they grew up in, we not only gain economic vitality but groom a new generation of business leaders, social advocates, community volunteers and forward-thinking citizens of tomorrow.
There’s the age-old adage about the chicken and the egg in economic development. Are entrepreneurs, the creative innovators of the business world, made or born? Picasso said that all children are born creative, meaning everyone could potentially be an entrepreneur. But recent studies have shown that entrepreneurs are influenced more by a person’s genes than his or her upbringing.
That said, if a community provides the right technical assistance, education and training, access to capital and mentoring and networking, entrepreneurial success will depend less on an individual’s DNA, but rather the commitment of the community at large to retain its intellectual wealth, in effect, bringing the global economy to their own back yard.
So, how do we create our own entrepreneurs? What is the prescription that will lead to a healthy, growing economy for our children?
I’m glad I asked that question because this is my take on the evolution of a successful entrepreneur.
In today’s highly competitive world, entrepreneurial education can begin shortly after birth. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s never too early to introduce children, even those as young as 2 to 5, to the entrepreneurial world. Libraries are a great place to start. Many libraries are re-engineering their children’s section to include furniture that’s easy to move, magnetic walls with numbers and letters, comfortable flooring and even some basic maker spaces. The goal is not only to be a space where books are available but a place where librarians and parents can encourage and engage in imaginary play, cognitive development and exploration, which all happen to be qualities found in a successful entrepreneur.
Kids between the ages 5 to 9 are the perfect age for kids to kids start and operate their own lemonade stand. At this stage in their development, kids are pretty fearless and anxious to try new things, especially with the mentorship of their parents. Lemonade stands give children their first taste of capitalism, thanks to a little help from sugary lemon water. It is a business where parents can teach their children about money, supply and demand, the importance of saving for the future and learning the difference between wants and needs. There are many organizations that provide excellent and fun workbooks for kids as they experience their first business venture.
Like most boys at the age of 10-14, I played baseball. My parents thought it would teach me coordination and teamwork. After a year of playing right field and not catching a single fly ball, I left the sport with the dubious honor of being the “most hit batsman” in the league. (every player got an award for something)
Many kids spend their summers in sports leagues (I still carry the emotional bruises from my experience), science camps and even sailing trips so they can hone their skills. But what about entrepreneur camps? How about teaching kids fun ways on how to develop a product or service, figure out marketing and sales and feel the rush of making something out of virtually nothing? These are skills that last a lifetime and leave far fewer bruises than a trip to home plate. Entrepreneur camps are becoming the new incubators where learning to network, taking responsibility, and experiencing risks will give them the critical skills for becoming an entrepreneur.
Having failed at achieving my parent’s dream of becoming the next Mickey Mantle, I next entered the world of scouting. How could a city boy like me not enjoy spending time in the wilderness? The Boy Scouts may have taught me how to tie rope knots and make a fire with matches but my cousin had joined the Girl Scouts and was making money selling cookies. (or so I thought).
The Girl Scouts have been empowering the next generation of female entrepreneurs for over 100 years. Entrepreneurship is now one of the four core areas that make up the Girl Scout experience (along with “Outdoors,” “Life Skills,” and “STEM” – science, technology, engineering, and math). I couldn’t join the girl scouts but my cousin figured out a way for me to sell her cookies to reach her quota. Revenue from the sales of Girl Scout cookies has been around $700 million since 1999, based on sales of 200 million boxes at $3.50 per box. For each box sold, 75 percent of the money goes to the local council, while 25 percent goes to bakeries. An early lesson for future entrepreneurs to spend, save, and share.
After burning myself with a match at scout camp and learning that I was not allowed to eat the product as compensation, my parents enrolled me in Junior Achievement when I was 14. It was there that I learned how to make and sell extension cords. With just a couple of tools and some simple materials, I was able to make a viable product without electrocuting myself. Junior Achievement is a great example of how we can teach our youth entrepreneurial skills and business basics. It is still the largest organization in the country when it comes to teaching business skills to our children. In Washington, the program reaches nearly 75,000 students.
This type of education can extend through high school. In addition to teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, we can also be teaching our future leaders the skills needed to start and run a business. Providing resources and technical assistance is a start. Incorporating entrepreneurship into the curriculum, sponsoring a start-up weekend, establishing a co-working space in the school, connecting middle students with mentors in the community, or starting a business plan competition are just some of the many ways educators and the community can infuse the spirit of entrepreneurship in students that will last long after they receive their diplomas.
Throughout the United States, there is a growing movement in educating youth on how to think like an entrepreneur. There are foundations, non-profits, afterschool programs, summer programs, high school classes and many other opportunities for enterprising kids to explore businesses. We can continue to give our kids a “normal” education but also equip them with entrepreneurial skills.
Communities need to take a good look at the kids that are in school right now. They are going to become the economic engine that fuels prosperity for years to come. Inspiring them when they are young, encouraging their creativity, and giving them skills and knowledge that will feed their desire to innovate and take risks, can change the economic fortunes of any community. But it will take sponsorships, partnerships, and investments to make this happen.
Don’t let research persuade you that successful entrepreneurs are born and not made. There are hundreds of credible programs throughout the United States that can assist a youth’s entrepreneurial development. Anyone can become a successful entrepreneur with the right commitment, resources and technical assistance.
In the process, everyone will be able to remember another important first. The day the town’s first million-dollar company was started by someone who grew up just down the street from them.