The emphasis given to entrepreneurship will be just as important for the country as it is for the students. The job losses that we’ve experienced over the last 18 months will only be recovered by a vibrant growth in small businesses, says R. Donahue Peebles, CEO of Peebles Corp. (No. 79 on the BE Industrial/Service Companies list).
Peebles, 49, began his ascension to millionaire status at age 19, but says he would not have thought to go into business had he not been exposed to it at age 11 by his mother, a real estate agent who owned her own appraisal company.
“[Our economy] needs new entrepreneurs to come up with new ideas,” says Peebles. “To create new entrepreneurs we have to expose young people at an early age to entrepreneurship and the opportunities and resources that come from it.”
Statistics show that over the past 15 years small businesses generated 64% of net new jobs. Peebles says that entrepreneurship is the impetus needed to create jobs in urban neighborhoods and change the plight of urban decay in major cities.
“If teens have their own business and it is something they believe in, they most likely aren’t going to be out there doing things that are going to keep them from it,” says Rollins. “They’re going to really work hard at it and it will take them away from all of the negativity in most low income neighborhoods and help keep them out of trouble.”
The Business of Life
Take for example Rodney Walker, the 2008 runner up in the NFTE competition. He knows better than most how entrepreneurial concepts can encourage teens to take control of their lives.
He currently runs his video production business, Forever Life, using a work study grant from Morehouse College in Atlanta and manages seven work study employees.
Yet, with all of Walker’s current success no one would have imagined how hard it was for him to get where he is now. From the age of five until he left Chicago at 19 to attend Morehouse, Walker lived in 15 foster homes; twelve before he even started high school. At nine years of age he was homeless for three months after running away from an abusive guardian.
Even after surviving his tumultuous youth, Walker, now 20, says it was NFTE that taught him about perseverance. He wasn’t able to take a NFTE class until the first semester of his senior year, but he recalls that initially he was more concerned about winning the prize money than starting a business.
The course “teaches you to have initiative; that you will get more no’s then yeses, and that results don’t come as easily as you want them to but if you stick with it [results will come],” says Walker.
As for Rollins, who is now a freshman at El Camino Community College in Torrance, California, he plans to use the $10,000 he won for his Phree Kountry business plan to purchase a silk-screening machine.
While going to school, working part time at a local grocery chain and running his business, Rollins doesn’t have time to enjoy the antics of most college freshmen, but that doesn’t bother him. “I feel blessed. What other 17-year-old can say they’ve met the president,” says Rollins, who presented Obama with a Phree Kountry t-shirt.
Check out Part 2: Lesson Plans for Young Entreprenuers.