When children from harlem’s Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship (IYE) had trouble selling the greeting cards that were a product of New York Colors, their own company, one youngster simply refused to take “no” for an answer. If he couldn’t sell the box of 10 cards for $10, he would try selling them individually at $1 a piece. His innovative thinking paid off. The cards that wouldn’t sell, did.
Steve Lawrence, executive director of IYE, calls this kind of ingenuity “thinking outside the box,” and says it’s one of several identifiable characteristics that distinguish a child with entrepreneurial potential. Other qualities that are equally important are high achievement, motivation and the ability to take risks. Vision, self-confidence and perseverance are also high on the list.
Where do these characteristics come from? Is a child born with them, or can they be learned? Science is still puzzling over the answers to these and other questions such as why first-born children are overrepresented in the population of entrepreneurs. But most experts agree that while certain traits evident in entrepreneurs may be dispositional, entrepreneurship, as both a goal and a skill, can be learned.
Indeed, whether they’re running a lemonade stand or a lawn mowing business, children today are gaining in entrepreneurial savvy. And for good reason.
With the future of affirmative action in doubt, the pervasiveness of the glass ceiling and the continued downsizing of corporate America, job security is no longer the sure thing it used to be.
START WITH EXPOSURE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
“We have to give our kids a realistic option,” says Pamela Foster-Grear, president and CEO of the Foster Corp., a 12-year-old uniform and safety supply company located in Columbus, Ohio. “Some of our kids will not get jobs,” she continues. “They will not fit in. So we have to show them that sometimes you have to make a path of your own.” For children to see the benefit of that world view, however, parents must be willing to work with their youngsters, providing both exposure to and encouragement of entrepreneurial endeavors. They have to want to educate their children about business.
That process, according to experts, can begin as early as age four by introducing children to money in its various forms, including coinage, and allowing them to make small purchases. As they grow older, the level of exposure should get increasingly more sophisticated, with the introduction of business newspapers and magazines and participation in activities that mix business education with entertainment. Examples include board games like Monopoly or software programs like Theme Hospital (Electronic Arts/Bullfrog Productions), SimPark (Maxis) and Zapitalism Deluxe (Ionos Software) and computer programs that help develop the child’s financial acumen, such as Money Making 101 (Digital Impact).
“Require that your child read the business section of the newspaper at least once a week,” Lawrence advises. “Have them look for articles on products that they actually consume.” Doing this, says Lawrence, helps children understand the relationship between the real world and the marketplace, and to recognize that their own buying habits make them