Pilot Program Seeks To Incubate Teen Entrepreneurs

By Jerd Smith
Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Erin Lewis, the COO of software startup mTusker is the brains behind a new teen-focused entrepreneurship program in Boulder. The program gets underway with a day-long workshop, where students will meet and form teams for the day to work through a manufacturing process. They will also learn about marketing and pricing strategies from local business professionals.

Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.

This is the teen mind on entrepreneurship: Dream up an idea; write a business plan; market it; sell some thing; generate cash; save some; give some away. Repeat.

If local entrepreneur Erin Lewis gets her way, a new Boulder-based pilot program launching in partnership with the Boulder County Small Business Development Center and the Boulder Public Library, will do just that.

The pilot kicks off June 25 with a free, one-day workshop at the library for teens interested in starting their own businesses.

By 2017 the team homes to have a full-length series of classes ready to offer.

“I would like to develop a one-year program that will take kids through a school year where one month they learn about sales, the next marketing, the next supply chain. I think it’s important they make money. It’s immediate gratification. It motivates them to work hard right now,” Lewis said.

Lewis, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of local software startup mTusker, spent years working for General Electric before trying her hand at helping start companies.

Now she hopes to continue the trajectory with this after-hours project.

Such programs aren’t necessarily new. Junior Achievement has been helping cultivate young business people for decades. And some schools offer economic classes where teens study capitalism and business formation.

But there is less economic and finance education for teens than experts would like to see.

According to the New York City-based Council on Economic Education, just 20 states require high school economics courses and about one in six U.S. 15-year-olds failed an international financial literacy test in 2012.

Colorado requires standardized testing on elective economics course work, but doesn’t require, for instance, that economics classes be offered, according to the CEE.

This despite studies that show students who complete course work in economics and personal finance go on to have better credit scores than their peers.

Reaching kids early is one reason the Small Business Development Center and the library were interested in helping launch this pilot.

“Entrepreneurship is a mind set,” said Sharon King, executive director of the SBDC. “And this age group is perfect. They are still totally creative. They’re figuring out what the world is and why they belong in it.”

David Farnan, library and arts director for the city of Boulder, said the program is an important addition to the library’s other teen outreach programs.

“”We’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” Farnan said. “We’re super-excited. The imagination of teenagers is great. To put them in touch with people who’ve done this themselves is a great opportunity.”

For the day-long workshop, up to 40 teens will meet , forming teams for the day to work through a manufacturing process, as well as marketing and pricing strategies, among other activities. They will also hear the stories of area business people who’ve started their own companies.

Once the year-long curriculum is developed, Lewis envisions spending each month of the school year on a a mini-business launch: selling starter plants door-to-door so busy wannabe gardners don’t have to drive to a garden shop to buy young seedlings; running a food cart at the Boulder Creek Festival, or any idea the teens generate. Underlying the hands-on work of building and selling products will be course work on marketing, supply chain issues, pricing and the myriad other details that entrepreneurs must address in day-to-day and long-term operations.

Lewis said giving teens practice in earning cash and using that cash to fund long-term goals is also important.

“The idea of saving or planning for the future would never enter some kids’ minds,” she said. “But it’s important for them to realize that if they have a goal, one of the things they will need is money.”

Another key to the program is offering each teen the chance to develop an idea that reflects something in which he or she is interested.

Other teen business programs show kids how to develop business models, but Lewis wants to be able to take the kids through an interactive, hands-on process that provides results and with those results, immediate feedback.

“I want them to learn that the harder they work, the luckier they get,” she said.

Like other startups, this pilot will generate plenty of test and data-gathering opportunities that Lewis, the SBDC and the library will use to craft the formal curriculum.

“This is still in development,” Lewis said. “We’re kicking around a lot of ideas.”

King said the SBDC will act as chief marketing agent and product developer, making sure the quality level is high and that outreach efforts are effective.

For the public library’s Farnan, the pilot is the realization of a long-time dream to implement youth business-building programs he’s seen other libraries launch.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” Farnan said. “But I’m really hopeful.”

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

To Top