Fostering Entrepreneurism at a Young Age Through Education

We can -- and must 0- give future entrepreneurs and business leaders the skills and knowledge necessary to grow our economy by teaching them from a young age.
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Can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur, or are certain people born with the spirit and drive? I know you can teach someone because I've seen it done time and again. But we have a serious problem in the United States. We're not teaching enough.

We can -- and must 0- give future entrepreneurs and business leaders the skills and knowledge necessary to grow our economy by teaching them from a young age.

We all agree that entrepreneurship is the engine of our economy. Small businesses comprise 99.7 percent of American employer firms, 98 percent of firms exporting goods and 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. And, although this might seem impossible, their importance is growing. Nearly 13 percent of Americans were starting or running new businesses in 2012, the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity since at least 1999, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an annual report published by Babson College and Baruch College.

Tragically, however, too many of our young people are ill-equipped to succeed when they enter the business world. This is one reason why roughly 40 percent of new businesses fail within their first four years.

Teaching young students what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur -- and how to weather the storm during difficult business conditions -- is missing from current school curriculums. Giving students a solid foundation of business knowledge and experience, can ignite an entrepreneurial spark. That's why I believe this country needs to build more spark tanks.

Experiential or project-based learning models are one of the best ways to create an impactful educational experience to inspire entrepreneurship. Learning through hands-on experience hones a student's critical thinking and problem solving skills, two abilities that are necessary for every successful entrepreneur. Basic reading, writing and math skills are, of course, essential subjects that must be taught, but helping students understand the educational and business relevance and application of these basic skills should be equally important.

Developing these skills at a young age also adds tremendous relevance to the subject matter learned in the classroom. The implementation of Common Core is certainly a step in the right direction to improve our overall educational system; however, the skills necessary for successful careers and running a business can't just be measured by academic outcomes and great test scores.

For example, at Youth About Business (YAB), the non-profit organization I am privileged to lead, we immerse students in a mergers-and-acquisitions (M&A) simulation where they are required to think through the entire deal process, from due diligence to proper valuation of the transaction to how to protect shareholder value. Experiential training like this builds a valuable skill set for future business leaders, while also providing them with the experience of working in teams and negotiating difficult challenges through business analysis and compromise. This method of teaching business solutions promotes an entrepreneurial spirit in our youth.

Amin Mirzaee, a YAB alum, is proof of this entrepreneurial spirit. As a high school student, he had no concept of how the business world worked. However, after engaging in mock business negotiations, attending several YAB interactive workshops and landing a series of internships at Deutsche Bank, he became passionate about starting his own business.

While as a student at McGill University in Montreal, Mirzaee leveraged what he had learned during his mock business presentations and Deutsche Bank to start -- and eventually shut down -- a number of businesses. He finally found the right formula in 2008 during his sophomore year when he founded Fluidware Corp., a survey software company that by 2010 was generating more than $1 million in annual revenues.

"Experiential learning camps like YAB are a microcosm of what happens in the business world," said Mirzaee, who credits his experiential and entrepreneurial education with helping him negotiate the sale of his company to SurveyMonkey in August of 2014. "I was able to develop my interpersonal and leadership skills, traits that are critical for succeeding in businesses.

Mirzaee is one of many young Americans who aspire to own their own businesses one day. By enabling them to interact with seasoned professionals while they navigate through various experiential exercises, educational programs that focus on entrepreneurial skills can often lead to not only college success, but stellar careers. Ultimately, the students who start their development early on are more likely to launch companies and create more opportunities for others through employment and advancement.

"Those that try and fail tend to try again and succeed," said Mirzaee.

Entrepreneurs are the key to America's economic growth. To continue filling that pipeline and inspiring more generations of business leaders, we must provide an environment that truly teaches students to unleash their inner entrepreneur.