Youth Use Entrepreneurship as a Pathway to Success

Running a successful business is not an easy feat no matter what your age. Yet there are teenagers, like Kalief Rollins, the winner of the 2009 National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, who were able to benefit from business start-up education and learn not only the value of a dollar, but how to claim the value of his life.

In this, the first article of a four-part series on youth entrepreneurship, examines how an emphasis on teen entrepreneurship education has the potential to create positive career paths for youth.

Rollins, 17, considers the t-shirt business he started with his brother in April, to be his ticket to success. He quit football and even missed out on high school graduation night parties with friends so that he could dedicate more time to his business, Phree Kountry Sankofa. His ambitious attitude even afforded him a chance to meet President Barack Obama along with two finalists in the OppenheimerFunds/NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge competition.

The competition is the cornerstone for NFTE, which sponsors programs around the world to teach students how to start a business. By the end of the entrepreneurship course students are expected to create a business concept and write a business plan for it. The course runs for either a semester or a year, and it is paid for by the school or with donations from local businesses.

“NFTE helped me realize that I needed to be a legitimate business with licensing and figure out my profit margin so that I didn’t sell shirts for too little or too much,” says Rollins, one of 28 contestants in the competition. Rollins has sold nearly 400 shirts since the company’s inception in April.

But Steve Marriotti, NFTE’s founder, says that the real purpose behind the program is not about teaching kids how to make money, but it’s about teaching teens how to take ownership of their lives. Studies show that entrepreneurial experience increases occupational aspirations, interest in college, reading, and leadership for youth.

“Entrepreneurship is just a tactic. It is really about owning you,” say Marriotti. “The strategy we are trying to [teach them] is to own your time. Money is a tool [to do that].”

Over the last 21 years more than 280,000 young people from low-income communities have graduated from NFTE classes and a recent evaluation of alumni shows that six months after matriculation 70% were in college, and one in three ran a small business.