As the father of a five-year-old daughter, I am seeing first hand how the effort to encourage more young entrepreneurs can start at home.
We have the ability to shape our children and introduce them to valuable lessons and concepts.
As an example, this past year my wife and I introduced a bi-weekly allowance for my daughter if she made her bed and cleaned up her room when asked. It didn’t really mean much to her, until she learned that she could buy toys and Barbies with her allowance – with money.
She quickly started to learn the value of money. The more money she saved, the more Barbies she could potentially buy. It was very simple. She understood immediately – and she was excited about it.
I remember the first time we went to Walmart to shop for new Barbies. My daughter brought her purse with $20 from her piggy bank. She went from Barbie to Barbie all down the aisle . . . trying to decide which one to get. She finally decided on Rainbow Barbie, a doll with a cool outfit and bright multi-coloured hair.
Fast forward to this summer. I explained to my daughter that there were other ways to make more money if she wanted to. She did. She asked what she could do and we talked about opening a lemonade stand. Mommy and daddy could help make lemonade and then she could sell it from a table at the end of our driveway.
She got really excited. “Can we sell Mr. Freezes and ice cream sandwiches too?” she asked.
Hannah’s Summer Treats was born.
To keep her excited, we went online and had a logo designed. Next, we ordered a T-shirt, banner and yard sign. Hannah was in business. All she needed now was her supplies. We picked up some cans of lemonade concentrate, a box of ice cream bars and several packs of Mr. Freeze. We picked a day for her grand opening and created an event on Facebook.
The day came to launch her business. We set up a table at the end of the driveway, complete with an umbrella from our back deck. We had a cooler stocked with supplies and ice, a cash box and used a large drink dispenser for the lemonade. We opened for three hours the first day, and Hannah had $65 in sales thanks to our family, friends, neighbours and a few passers by.
All in all, her grand opening was a success. When it came to the money, I explained that in business, there are revenues and expenses. I tallied up all of her costs and showed her that she had more expenses than revenue because of the logo, signs and supplies we had to buy. To keep her motivated we deferred some of the costs to be paid back over time, and Hannah collected a share of the profits to add to her piggy bank. She was overjoyed.
We decided that we would open Hannah’s Summer Treats every few weeks throughout the summer. Her second time, she brought in close to $50. Again, we went through the expenses and Hannah took home a portion. In just six hours of working for herself, she brought in what would have taken her three and a half months to do with just her allowance.
So far Hannah has had a lot of fun, she is proud of her business and excited about having her pop-up lemonade stand. She is learning a little bit about business and gaining an understanding of revenues and expenses.
When it comes to business, nothing beats doing.
I will use this as a stepping stone to other business ventures with Hannah as she grows up. I hope that she will be just as excited about it as she is right now.
Imagine if we all could introduce our kids to the world of entrepreneurship, and our schools could reinforce and take it further. When the time came, entrepreneurship would be just as valid a choice as getting a job after graduation.
We would see more young entrepreneurs in our community. We would have more entrepreneurs to take over existing businesses that lack a succession plan and might otherwise close. Our business community would be energized and we may even spur some high-growth, world-class businesses.
As the founder and community lead for StartUP Sault Ste. Marie, I often think about how we as a community can encourage and raise more young entrepreneurs in Sault Ste. Marie.
The fact is, there are many things we can do at home, school and out in the community.
As parents we can encourage our children to explore and leverage opportunities to make their own money – by making and selling things (crafts, desserts, lemonade), by offering services that people will pay for (fixing computers, training people on how to use digital devices, mowing lawns, shoveling snow), or by creating information that is valuable (blogging, ebooks, research).
Our schools can train and educate students by incorporating entrepreneurship to a greater extent. I can recall as a child in school, playing “store” in fourth or fifth grade. This introduces children to buying and selling, and money – all important concepts.
But we can go further – we can talk about great inventors and great entrepreneurs (not often the same people) and how entrepreneurs are often the visionaries to create new products or technology that didn’t exist before, or commercial applications for that technology (think iPhone, digital currency, Facebook, Netflix). We can get kids excited about creating things, building things and selling things.
We want our children to think bigger. We want them to know that anything is possible. That with the right idea and the right resources they can build something, invent something or make money from something.
By building a base in elementary school, these ideas can be reinforced in high school through entrepreneurship classes, and technology classes. We can continue to build the skills, and encourage the pursuit of opportunities. This is also the time when students get access to programs like Summer Company from the Ontario government. This program, delivered locally by the Millworks Centre for Entrepreneurship, provides business training and mentoring as well as up to $3,000 for students (aged 15-29) to start their own summer business.
I think our university and college can also do more to integrate entrepreneurial thinking into all learning streams. The best entrepreneurs are not always business students. They are individuals who have been trained to look for and take advantage of opportunities. Opportunities to make and sell something, opportunities to deliver a service to capitalize on something, opportunities to invest resources in something with high potential growth.
The students and graduates who see these opportunities are often working or studying in science, or computers, or even the arts. They come from all streams. Now imagine if these students with the ability to see opportunities also had the skills, knowledge and networks to turn opportunities into thriving businesses? I believe they can if our educational institutions can provide a better link with entrepreneurship.
This could be achieved by requiring every student, regardless of discipline to take an entrepreneurship course early in their post-secondary program. This could be achieved by counting as elective credits, the participation in business planning competitions, or pitch contests or other activities that force students of all programs to “collide”, share ideas, and pursue opportunities.
We want to graduate more entrepreneurs who take the risk to start their own business, or more entrepreneurial employees who have the mindset of an entrepreneur and can apply those skills and talents within their job.
So where do we begin?
There are some great local programs that help to do this like Head Start in Business’ programs and its Youth Enterprise Camp, Summer Company, and the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre’s YouLaunch program (college/university). These are a great start, but I argue that more needs to be done. More of a continuum of learning, training and reinforcement is required.
What do you think? How can we raise more entrepreneurs in Sault Ste. Marie? Let me know your thoughts!