This article’s theme is “Teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset.” The interview questions are in bold, and Jeff Reid’s responses follow.
My first question is, what are the types of resources offered to American students through the public education system, or even private universities, that are helpful to rising entrepreneurs but may not be offered in other countries?
That’s a good question. Entrepreneurship education is now offered at all different levels of U.S. education. Certainly colleges are now teaching entrepreneurship more and more. And in some high schools and middle schools and even younger there may be a class about entrepreneurship. Those are still relatively rare, but there are more and more after-school programs and camps that are specifically focused on entrepreneurship programs for young people. But even those are not that widespread. I think if you’re asking what other things might be valuable, there are organizations that have developed curriculum and encourage high schools and even younger student programs to teach entrepreneurship, so there is a movement trying to increase that.
I think more than anything, it’s exposure to entrepreneurship that is most important – young people should learn that starting their own businesses is an option available to them, and that comes from just seeing other entrepreneurs, understanding who they are, and realizing that it’s not something that’s inaccessible. That’s the biggest challenge, even for Georgetown students: they just think entrepreneurs are Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg – being a white male is the assumption. If people don’t see themselves like that, they just reject entrepreneurship as an option.
In these classes you’re talking about, even if they’re rare, what do they teach exactly? What is this exposure?
Before I came to Georgetown, I ran a non-profit that was teaching entrepreneurship to public middle schools and high schools in DC. We were focused on low-income communities. If you haven’t heard of NFTE, the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, it was founded 30+ years ago in New York City and now has programs around the world. I ran the DC office and our goal was to get as many high schools and middle schools in the DC area as possible teaching an entrepreneurship class . We were trying to give kids exposure. And what did we teach? There is actually a textbook: the title of the book is Entrepreneurship, Owning Your Future, by Steve Mariotti. Teaching students to have an entrepreneurial mindset is more important than anything else, in my opinion.
The students we worked with often didn’t see a lot of options in their future. They lived in poor communities and the people that they knew were either hustling on the corners, selling drugs, had a minimum wage job like at a McDonald’s, or were in jail. Teaching them how to make money on their own in a legal fashion was extremely valuable for a lot of these kids. One of the things we would do is give the kids $50 each, take them to a wholesale market, and teach them how to buy stuff at a wholesale price and sell it for profit. For many, this was the first time that these kids were making money on their own, doing something that’s not illegal – which can be an eye-opening experience.
Entrepreneurship was being taught not to encourage these kids to start their own companies, the idea was to give them a vision of how they could own their own futures. “Locus of control” is what the social scientists call it: when someone believes they have the ability to control their own future, as opposed to just being a victim, or swept away in whatever’s going on around them. Learning how to make money got these kids to come to school, too, so it was also a kind of drop-out prevention strategy. Some of the other valuable lessons they learned were: how to put together a basic business plan and how to put together a slide deck that describes your business. There were also pitch contests – one at each individual school, then regional and national pitch contests. Even a global pitch competition. In competing in these contests, they developed essential business skills like, what does the community need, what are the costs of goods, how to calculate profit – things like that.
We at PalTechUS strongly agree with Professor Reid that, while not everybody should become an entrepreneur, everybody should be granted the opportunity to experiment with business ideas that they feel passionate about. We also want to re-emphasize his sentiment regarding the importance of teaching students to have an entrepreneurial mindset: the skills, maturity, and character required to be a successful entrepreneur contribute directly to a greater sense of one’s ability to control his/her own future. An entrepreneurial mindset also motivates students to look for ways they can better serve their communities. This is the mindset that we hope to instill in Palestinian students and young professionals through our projects at PalTechUS.