And it's not like the kids themselves aren't totally into this. According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, that promotes the growth of entrepreneurship, a recent study found that seven out of 10 U.S. teens want to control their own destinies by becoming entrepreneurs. And according to a 1997 USA Today survey, in which young people were asked what they would do if they could devote one year to any occupation, 47 percent of women and 38 percent of men chose the career of entrepreneur.
"The whole issue of corporate mergers, downsizing and acquisitions has cautioned a lot of kids to quietly make the decision that they don't want that kind of life for themselves," explains Jim Hayes, president and CEO of Junior Achievement (JA) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. "They're determined to run their own business and control their own destiny."
So with over 110,000 classroom volunteers, many of whom are entrepreneurs themselves, the goal of JA is to inspire and expose kids of all academic levels and incomes to the benefits of free enterprise. "The important thing is to help kids understand that entrepreneurship is a very realistic path," adds Hayes. "Once they hear that, they get intrigued by the whole thing."
It was at age 12 that student James Carl joined the local JA program and started his first business. Now 16, he's gone on to launch a second venture, a stock brokerage company run from his home in Anaheim, California. Drawn to JA simply because, as Carl says, he wanted to see what it would take to start his own company, his present goals are to expand the brokerage and become as large as, if not larger than, J.P. Morgan-a pretty remarkable ambition for a teenager, wouldn't you say
As for the interest exuded by students from NFTE, the percentage of post high-school alumni who think of themselves as entrepreneurs is a whopping 83 percent, with a high percentage still running productive businesses. "The academia of entrepreneurship simply channels the drive and energy that is already within each individual," says NFTE alumnus Byron Bennett, 27, whose 2-year-old New York City start-up, Roommate Services Inc., expects 2000 sales to reach a whopping $1 million. "I definitely think it's important for youths to be given an early understanding of the business world. With such assets, they can overcome their fear and lack of understanding and begin identifying a path that will work best for them."
Former SIFE member and present advisory board member Roger Lopez, 22, agrees. "It's very important to learn the concepts of business at an early age," he says. "When you are a kid, that's the best time to learn the true entrepreneurial spirit because there is no greed for money, just the pure freedom of creativity-something most adults forget about."
At Babson, the commitment to entrepreneurial learning has become culturally ingrained in the surrounding community. Through annual consortiums and full-blown ceremonies, the school's entrepreneurial education staff showers past and present entrepreneurs with unlimited respect-almost to the point of full-on hero worship-through events such as Founder's Day, when great entrepreneurs are celebrated and elected to be placed in Babson's honorary Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs. Such commitment prompts Spinelli to pre-qualify students before their first day of class. "I tell them to walk through the Exhibit Hall," he says. "If they don't get goose bumps, I tell them to drop the course immediately."
Recent graduate Wendy Cohen, 21, has felt those kinds of goose bumps ever since taking a freshman-year Management Experience course. Acting as VP of marketing for an on-campus coffee shop called Café Babson, Cohen got her first real taste of the business world. Having considered entrepreneurship ever since she was in high school, it wasn't until she had the opportunity to experience it, and then later compose a business plan for her own original concept, that she realized how passionate she truly was about launching her very own business-a plus-size clothing business that caters only to teenagers.