Sharpen Your Skills at a Youth Entrepreneur Camp
Q: I'm interested in starting a business, but I don't know what to do first--or second or third, for that matter. What's a good way for me to jump-start my way into entrepreneurship?
A: When I first declared myself an entrepreneur about three years ago, I knew that the path I was going down could be lonely and that if I wasn't prepared to self-teach myself all I needed to know, I may not be able to make it. Fortunately, that has changed significantly. If you have read some of my previous columns, you know there's an abundance of resources available for the aspiring teenage entrepreneur. Luckily, if you're not the self-teaching type, there is another option: entrepreneurial camps.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a group of students who attended Enterprise for High School Students, or EHSS. The San Francisco-based organization puts on a camp for 13- to 19-year-olds who are interested in starting a business. In the past, I have generally shrugged off supposed "entrepreneur" camps and other such classes as ones that teach kids how to put up a lemonade stand, not how to start a bona fide corporation. This camp, however, had a different, and indeed impressive, curriculum. For three days a week, students at EHSS gather to learn fundamental business skills, including finances, business plans, communications and leadership. In addition to classroom learning, students venture out in the local business community to hear CEOs like me speak.
Prior to my speech, I didn't know what to expect from the camp participants. Were these teens really enrolled in the camp because they were truly interested in entrepreneurship? Or did their parents simply sign them up as something to do over the summer? Much to my surprise, it was the former. The kids went around the table and stated why they were at the camp. "I want to start a business," "I want to support myself in the future" and "I want to learn about being successful" were all answers.
The questions they asked were all the same ones I was asking when I was at that stage of my entrepreneurial career: wondering if a teenager can really start a company in an adult business world. Participating in an engaging discussion with other peers who have similar aspirations is certainly an alternative to reading about the topic in a book.
Such camps exist elsewhere in the country (see "Entrepreneurial Camps for Teens," below); even as the summer winds down, some programs have fall and winter options, too. Researching business camps should be on every teenage entrepreneur's to-do lit: Aside from the obvious opportunity to interact with likeminded individuals, these camps allow you to reap, in interactive fashion, advice and counsel from local leaders.
Entrepreneurial Camps for Teens
Whether you just want a quick excursion or a weeks-long program, there's an entrepreneurial camp for you. Here are some resources to get you started in your search.
- Academy of Business Leadership: This is a nonprofit covering Southern California that teaches at-risk youth about entrepreneurship. ABL coordinates a year-round program and a special summer program based at local college campuses, including seminars, mentoring programs with CEOs, stock portfolio management, business plan writing and more.
- Alfred University in Alfred, New York, offers a five-day Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute for high school students each summer. Students participate in five hands-on workshops dealing with a variety of entrepreneurial topics.
- Bentley College programs: Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, offers two one-week programs: Wall Street 101 and the Leadership Institute, designed to give high school students a taste of business start-up and the ins and outs of Wall Street.
- Camp $tartup: Held at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, these camps help girls aged 14 to 19 write business plans and learn leadership and team building.
- CANDO Youth Entrepreneurship Camps: A project of the CANDO Tech Center in Douglas, Wyoming, these one-week camps offer young entrepreneurs training in marketing, accounting, business plan writing and management. Students stay in the dorms at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds and participate in activities designed to help them learn entrepreneurship.
- Excellence in Youth Entrepreneurs Program: This camp is held at the Entrepreneurial Institute at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, Massachusetts. High school students start businesses while sharpening reading, writing and verbal business skills.
- The Sigmund Weis School of Business at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, offers a six-day Business Challenge summer workshop for high school students, introducing them to financing, banking, the stock market, sales and advertising and more.
- Tips on Trips and Camps: If you're having trouble finding a camp in your area, this organization can probably help: They collect information on more than 500 programs nationwide, including entrepreneurial camps.
- University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center: The center offers two week-long camps during the summer: a youth camp for grades 4-6, where students learn entrepreneurship through classroom and practical experience; and a camp for Iowa high school students, where students develop a business plan, do market research, identify opportunities and find start-up financing.
- YoungBiz and SIFE: These two teen-focused groups teamed up last year to create educational camps and workshops for aspiring young entrepreneurs. Students learn skills like writing a business plan and investing in the stock market.
- Youth Entrepreneur Camp: Held at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, this camp helps middle schoolers start a business, visit local businesses and get mentoring from local entrepreneurs. --Karen E. Spaeder, with assistance from Nichole L. Torres
Got an entrepreneurial camp to tell us about? Send an e-mail to email@example.com with the program name, dates, Web site, phone number and a few details about the program so we can consider you for this list.
Fifteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in more than 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at firstname.lastname@example.org.