History is littered with stories of achievements by entrepreneurs who have dropped out of school only to go on to start immensely successful businesses. And it is these entrepreneurs who are often used as examples to emphasize that entrepreneurship is an ingrained characteristic born to individuals and cannot be taught or learned.
This argument, however, is flawed, as there are equally as many examples of entrepreneurs who have learned entrepreneurial skills along their academic and professional career path -- me being one of them.
As entrepreneurship continues to gain in popularity among younger generations, and as these generations enter the workplace and assume the mantles of leadership, a solid education combined with entrepreneurial training is becoming more and more important.
One example of this youth movement is Lachlan Johnson. In 2010, Johnson co-founded her first company called Flipoutz, a toy and fashion accessory for kids. Along with her two siblings, she hustled and got Flipoutz featured on the second season of Shark Tank, where they received an offer from multiple "sharks".
Eventually, the family exited the company, and Johnson went on to start a second company, Beaux Up, with her brother Jake Johnson. That company eventually won the grand prize in Warren Buffett's "Grow Your Own Business Challenge," a youth entrepreneur competition with thousands of entries from aspiring young entrepreneurs around the nation.
The most impressive aspect of these accolades? Johnson achieved all of them before her 20th birthday.
Today, in addition to being a university junior, Johnson is a founder and CEO of Trep-ology, an organization focused on teaching kids entrepreneurial skills -- or more accurately, "kids teaching kids how to start and run a business in order to make entrepreneurial skills... part of their DNA at a young age."
As you will find, many of the same passions and ambitions that we need to impart on our own young children motivates this young and successful entrepreneur.
Q: What was the biggest surprise you found when you first pursued entrepreneurship?
Johnson: With my brother, Jake, and sister, Erin, we started our first business, Flipoutz, while I was in middle school. We were fortunate to land a spot on Shark Tank and formed a great relationship with Kevin O'Leary and Daymond John. We grew the business and eventually sold it in 2013.
I had no idea that the skills I was developing -- creative thinking, problem solving, financial literacy, public speaking and team building, just to name a few -- would be the skills most prized and sought after now that I am an adult (well, almost).
Q: How important have you found formal education in your career as an entrepreneur?
Johnson: Don’t tell my professors, but the most important thing I have learned in college is that being an "A" student is not the best indicator of success. Not that getting "A’s" ever got in the way of my social life in high school, but had I known perfect grades were not the only way to get into college or be successful in the great big world waiting for me after graduation, I could have saved myself years of stress and worrying.
Luckily, I did get into college and since have realized that the skills most appreciated by my professors, my employers and my community are the entrepreneurial skills I learned when I was 12.
Q: How important have you found entrepreneurial skills in your time as a student?
Johnson: Entrepreneurial skills are life skills that every kid needs to be successful, regardless of their career path. They are obviously helpful if you want to start your own business, but they are important even if you want to work for someone else. Employers are no longer eager to hire employees whose skills can be outsourced. They want problem solvers, innovators and creative thinkers. In short, they want entrepreneurs.
For me, teaching entrepreneurship to kids is not about creating mini-adults but about applying creativity around a passion in order to learn important life skills.
Q: Who inspires you?
Johnson: Many people, but I particularly enjoy following Tony Wagner, Harvard education expert. Wagner has pointed out that the average 4-year-old asks hundreds of questions a day -- and as someone who helps at a daycare, I can attest to the accuracy of this. By the time kids reach the age of 11 or 12, however, they stop asking questions and concern themselves with getting the right answer on tests. Creativity is essentially "schooled" out of them.
Wagner has said, "We don’t need 'A' students, we need innovators." In other words, we don't need students who know all the answers to the questions that have already been asked. Instead, we need students that come up with questions and answers on their own.
So while my Mom and Dad may be disappointed I miss the Dean’s List occasionally, they rest well knowing I have the entrepreneurial skills necessary to do other things equally as awesome.
Q: Why is entrepreneurship important for young children to learn?
Johnson: We are all born with an inherent curiosity about the world. In developing an entrepreneurial mindset, kids learn to look at the world differently and understand that there can be a second, third and fourth right answer to any problem they encounter. Moreover, what they learn in the classroom makes more sense when they get real world experience applying it to a business, and confidence will soar with the realization that they can create and control their own future regardless of the path they want to follow.
Q: What’s in store for you and Trep-ology?
Johnson: Entrepreneurial education for kids is powerful stuff. My brother and I lived it, and now we want to share it with others. As hectic as being business partners with my little brother can be while we are still in school, we have enjoyed created new startups and helping others realize and act on their entrepreneurial ambitions.
At SXSW 2016, I am hosting a great panel for young aspiring business leaders called, "Gen Z Startups: Influenced by Media, Reality and BS." I will also be pitching Trep-ology and our new digital platform that makes internalizing entrepreneurial skills child’s play -- literally. Our goal is to teach entrepreneurship using an engaging curriculum delivery method, and we have started by offering videos and resources at Trep-ology.com. As well, we are currently developing a mobile app and will begin raising capital for game development soon.
In general, we believe entrepreneurship is a critical skill needed by tomorrow’s business leaders, and we hope to continue growing our base of talented, ambitious and courageous youth through Trep-ology -- and eventually have a positive impact on the community.