I recently participated in Career Day at the Detroit charter school I run. After I described my first big job as a journalist, I turned the floor over to the students to tell me what they wanted to be.
Veterinarian. Pediatrician. Engineer. Right answers, I thought, especially given that they attend University Prep Science & Math Middle School (UPSM) where the focus is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
Then I asked the sixth graders if they knew what an entrepreneur was, and if they’d ever considered becoming one.
Their eyes lit up. Their hands shot up.
Now they could talk about their real dreams.
“I’m already an entrepreneur,” said Malik Davis, 11. “I’m starting a birthday party planning business.”
Michael Eatman, 11, chimed in with details about the inspirational books he and his family write and self-publish.
And Justin McCree, 11, said he will be more famous than Ben & Jerry with his “crazy flavors” of ice cream.
“My blends will scream, ‘Come eat me,’” and I will be rich,” said McCree.
At UPSM, we encourage students to dream big—to find their passion and run with it. It is one of our core values.
But I worry that we are not doing enough in our schools to capture the energy and creativity among our youth and channel it toward entrepreneurship.
The good news from a 2010 Detroit News/Your Child of Michigan poll (sponsored by the New Economy Initiative) of parental attitudes about education and entrepreneurship is that 56 percent of parents would “strongly encourage” their children to start their own business, and two-thirds feel it is at least somewhat likely their children will actually be an entrepreneur someday.
What I witnessed at UPSM is not the exception. It represents what the majority of our youth say they want to do with their lives. The infrastructure to support their dreams, however, does not yet exist where it could be most beneficial—in K-12 schools—and so they choose more traditional paths.
“Seven out of ten high school students want to start their own businesses” according to a recent Gallup poll. A recent Kaufman Foundation study found that 85-percent of U.S. high school students reported that they were taught only “a little about” or “practically nothing about” how business works. And, 80-percent of the general public, of business owners, and of managers believe it is “important or very important” for U.S. schools to teach more about entrepreneurship and business.
Studies show the choice of an entrepreneurial work life is most influenced by exposure to role models and experiences as a teenager and young adult. These relationships and experiences foster an entrepreneurial mindset; that is, a curiosity and confidence regarding entrepreneurship that results in “being an entrepreneur” or ‘owning your own business’ as a top-of-mind career choice for a young adult.
Every one of the UPSM students talked about being inspired by someone in their lives who owned—or was currently starting—a small business.
Detroit has eager, creative youth with energy, ideas and dreams. We have parents who are ready to support their entrepreneurial spirit. We have tremendous examples of successful entrepreneurs working in our community right now.
We are perfectly positioned to nurture the next generation of business leaders.
K-12 schools should see a better future in the words of Justin McCree—and the thousands of other students like him in our community—and pave the way.
“I have all kinds of ideas and I’m already working on them,” McCree said.
“I can’t imagine anything better than being your own boss and making people happy with your product.”