Girl School

What makes a young woman want to own a business? A little education will help.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the June 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Since the Internet era unfolded, you've heard a lot about 19-, 20- or 21-year-old males plunging into the excitement of piloting start-ups. But did you ever wonder why you weren't reading about the female equivalents of Marc Andreessen and Jerry Yang? Aren't young women interested in entrepreneurship?

Absolutely yes, says Joline Godfrey, CEO of Independent Means Inc., a company that operates summer camps introducing girls ages 13 to 19 to business ownership and investing. "Girls are flocking to this stuff; once they get access to the information, we see they're hungry for it," says Godfrey, who started in 1996 with a single location. This year, she expects to run 12 camps in North America plus several in Australia.

Before we give the reins over to the youngsters, let's celebrate a veteran.
Mail order pioneer Lillian Vernon celebrates her company's 50th anniversary this year. We asked this trailblazing business owner what she believes was the turning point.

"The most significant change began in the early 1970s, when women entered the work force full time. After gaining valuable work experience, many decided to start their own businesses in [later decades]." Vernon says efforts have been aided by banks and the SBA growing more willing to lend to women, and the advent of the Internet and e-commerce. "These factors have had an enormous impact on our society and changed American culture forever."

Independent Means isn't the only game in town. You can find a whole laundry list of organizations offering entrepreneurial training to girls, including women's colleges like Seton Hill College and Carlow College in Pennsylvania, Columbia College in South Carolina and Midway College in Kentucky. There's also Mother and Daughter Entrepreneurs-In Teams, sponsored by the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation, for 13- and 14-year-old girls and their moms. The federal government has even gotten into the act: The Office of Women's Business Ownership has a Web introduce girls to entrepreneurship. (For a listing of other entrepreneurship programs for girls, visit

But what's interesting about all these programs is that the majority target pre-college girls, and while, in general, there aren't a lot of people under 22 starting companies, those who do tend to be males.

Amy Liu, a 2001 graduate of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is one exception. At 20, she and three friends launched a company called "It's a local [online] marketplace that started as a way to allow students to buy and sell used textbooks," says Liu, now 21.

Liu credits her studies as a business major with awakening her zest for entrepreneurship. "During my junior year, some students from, who started their company as Michigan undergrads, came to my class to discuss their Web site, which offers free lecture notes online, and how they got $11 million in venture capital," Liu recalls. "After that, I realized [entrepreneurship] was something I wanted to do, and I jumped right in and did it."

But few women follow Liu's path. "You don't see young women leaving school to start companies as often as men. Young women often feel they need to master things before they undertake them, while young men just do it," says Allyn Morrow, associate professor and director of the MBA program at Chatham College in Pittsburgh.

That doesn't mean female college students aren't interested in entrepreneurship. Business program directors at colleges nationwide show women are actively studying and preparing for business ownership. And Ken Morse, managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, applauds the decision not to rush into business while still in school.

Morse sees the next generation of women entrepreneurs coming into their own in the next decade. "We're building a strong base, and that doesn't happen overnight," he says. "We're filling the pipeline, and we're doing it the old-fashioned way-with hard work, patience and a long attention span."

Entrepreneurial Education For Girls

A growing number of programs and resources empower girls to envision themselves as entrepreneurs. Take a look at a sampling of what's available:

Camp Entrepreneur, held each June at the University of North Florida, is a one-week day camp for girls ages 14 to 17 that teaches entrepreneurship by exposing girls to business plan writing and presenting; a mocktail party, where they learn to network; an etiquette luncheon and business fashion show; and introductions to professional women who serve as mentors. To apply, call Mollie Lawerence at (904) 620-2470 or visit

The Center for Women Entrepreneurs at Columbia College in South Carolina operates a one-week summer camp each July to help high school sophomores and juniors understand the ins and outs of operating a company. Participants create and present a business plan to a panel of real lenders. For information, call Vicki Brown or Susan Davis (803) 786-3108, or visit

Girls and Young Women Entrepreneurs: True Stories About Starting and Running a Business Plus How You Can Do It Yourself by Frances A. Karnes, Suzanne M. Bean and Elizabeth Verdick (Free Spirit Publishing), offers success stories, words of inspiration and a how-to section.

Girls' Biz, a program operated from September to June in conjunction with the Madison, Wisconsin, chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, targets girls in sixth through eighth grades. Participants learn how to function as a team, jointly develop a business concept, present it and then receive real capital to implement their ideas. For information, call (608) 273-1600.

The Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), along with West Michigan Girl Scouts, runs a one-week program in July for girls in seventh through ninth grades. Students develop a business idea, take field trips to visit women entrepreneurs and conclude the program with a presentation of their business plans. For details, call Paula Brush at (616) 458-3404.

How To be a Teenage Millionaire by Art Beroff & T.R. Adams (Entrepreneur press) is a fact-filled starter's guide that shows 13- to 17-year-olds how they can turn their hobbies, skills and interests into profit-making ventures.

Independent Means targets girls ages 14 to 19 with two-week summer camps running from June to August that introduce the concepts of entrepreneurship (Camp Startup) and investing (Summer $tock). The company also operates the "Business Plan Competition," in which five girls win $2,500 each for their plans. The deadline to submit entries for that competition is August 15. For details about the contest or the camps, call (805) 965-0475 or visit

Mother and Daughter Entrepreneurs in-Teams (MADE-IT), created in 1995 by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, teams seventh-grade girls with their mothers for a two-year program that includes business training, mentoring and more. It's currently operating in Kansas City, Kansas; Binghamton, New York; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts; Smithtown, New York; and Sioux City, Iowa. Teams compete within each city; one winning team from each city attends a one-week residential camp in June in Kansas City, Missouri, and a national business competition where they're eligible for awards and cash prizes. Once the businesses are up and running, teams receive continuous mentoring and guidance from program organizers. For details, call Carol Allen at (816) 932-1158.

Women's Business Center in Washington, DC, has started the Young Women's Business Club, an after-school program for girls ages 14 to 18 that teaches participants about businesses and helps them start one before the end of the semester. The program was launched in conjunction with the National Foundation for Training Entrepreneurs. For details, call (202) 785-4922.

Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba in Canada offers a number of programs, including the Mind Your Own Business Contest awarding $500 each to the five best business plans submitted by girls ages 15 to 18. For more information, call (800) 203-2343 within Manitoba, (204) 988-1860 outside, or visit the organization's Web site.

Women's Enterprise Institute at Midway College in Kentucky targets girls ages 13 to 17 with a one-week residential summer camp program-Enterprising Girls-that explores entrepreneurial ideas. Girls develop a business idea, learn about teamwork and meet successful women business owners. For information, call (859) 846-5800.

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