Teenagers Learn the Business of Becoming Entrepreneurs

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Topaz Samuels has $50 and a plan for profits.

"I'm ordering alien yo-yos, glow-in-the-dark alien watches, and imitation mobile phones," Ms. Samuels, 17, says as she fills out a purchase order. "One costs $3, so I'll probably sell them for $6."

"You'll want to sell them for at least $6," Ted Tyson, the divisional director of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, New England, tells her. "Never, ever devalue your entrepreneur time."

For More Information:

The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship is at 120 Wall St., 29th Floor, New York, NY 10005;

(212) 232-3333;
fax: (212) 232-2244.
Information about the international nonprofit group also is available at the NFTE World Wide Web site, www.nftebiz.org.

For Ms. Samuels and her 39 classmates gathered at the John Hancock Conference Center this summer morning, Beanie Babies, "alien" watches, fake phones, and yo-yos are more than passing fads--they're a source of income. In nine days, they'll be selling their wares on this city's fashionable Newberry Street, taking home the profits and, in the process, learning about market demand, salesmanship, and business management.

The project is run by the Boston Police Department and the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a New York City-based program dedicated to helping low-income teenagers across the country start and run their own businesses.

This year, 6,500 students will take part in NFTE programs. Most participants are between the ages of 14 and 18.

"The vision of the NFTE program is to provide every low-income youth with the knowledge to pursue economic self-sufficiency through entrepreneurial education," said Mike Caslin, the chief executive officer of NFTE (pronounced "nifty"). "The goal is to promote an entrepreneurial culture through education; to provide a set of skills, values, and attitudes young people can use to take control [of their lives]."

The program operates on a trimester schedule, with fall and spring semesters offering both in-school and after-school programs and a summer semester offering smaller "BizCamps." The spring and fall classes can be taken for course credit.

In each program, students must master 21 competencies, including writing a business plan, generating sales, opening a bank account, creating a business card, and behaving in a businesslike manner. At the end of the program, students present their plans to a panel of community business leaders.

Hidden Talents

"There are acres of unpolished diamonds across this country," Mr. Caslin said, referring to students in low-income areas.

But many students graduate from high school with limited "financial literacy," according to a national study conducted last year for the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, a nonprofit organization in Washington. The study tested 1,509 high school seniors on their knowledge of basic aspects of personal finance, including income, money management, saving and investment, and spending. Most of the students failed.

"A main reason for the results being so poor is [the subject matter] is not being taught in school," said Dara Duguay, the executive director of the Jump$tart Coalition.

FTE aims to increase student awareness of money matters, Mr. Caslin said. "We start with where the students are. You tap their energies and passions and help them explore the local market opportunities."

Boston's Summer of Opportunity program, created in 1994 by the city police department and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., targets inner-city teenagers who are trying to turn their lives around, said Blake Norton, the director of public-affairs projects for the police department. The program began a partnership with NFTE this year.

"The program teaches things in a way we can understand them," student Tchad Cort, 15, said. "We learn how to communicate better, what it takes to work with a team, how to learn from other people's ideas."

Jason Julien, 17, added: "It gives us ideas that we can connect to other subjects and jobs."

Taking Stock

At Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, a few miles away from the Boston BizCamp, Rashawn Facey-Castillo is scanning the stock market on the Internet.

"Give me a company, any company," the 15-year-old announces to his classmates. "I've got AOL; 118 1/16, baby. It just went up and keeps going up."

Mr. Facey-Castillo is among 20 students enrolled in one of NFTE's pilot BizTech camps. Sponsored by Microsoft Corp., the camp focuses on integrating the NFTE curriculum with on-line learning. Students complete the majority of their work through a computer and server.

Today's schedule includes a group discussion on software problems, a field trip to a wholesale retailer, and a stock market game in which each student is to monitor a stock for five days; the student whose stock gains the most is the winner.

"What are we risking here? Not being the winner?" NFTE teacher Charlotte McCullough asks the class. "What are the rewards for taking risks? You could be the winner here."

Ms. McCullough, who regularly teaches computer operations and programming languages at Madison Park, has been using the NFTE curriculum since 1991.

"It helps us attack the curriculum from all sorts of perspectives," she said. "NFTE helps us say to the students who one day may be starting their own business: 'Here are some things you need to know. And if not, you'll definitely be working for someone else, and some of the things would be a good thing to know just as a person working in business.'"

Teachers for the program must complete at least 16 hours of training on teaching a fundamental NFTE class and are certified by the foundation for one year. More than 900 teachers currently have such certification.

Preparing for Life

When Kathleen Jeanty was 15, she applied for the program simply for a vacation.

"I didn't care what I was doing," she recalled. "I just saw it as an opportunity to get away from home."

Four years after attending a 1994 BizCamp at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., Ms. Jeanty now runs Kay Jay Enterprises, a two-person marketing and public relations firm, with her partner, Jaynell Grayson, also a NFTE alumna. In addition, she's attending Babson on a full-tuition scholarship and is scheduled to graduate in December 1999.

While participating in NFTE, Ms. Jeanty created a business plan for a clothing-design company for the elderly, a plan that she hopes to pursue later in life.

"Business had never really crossed my mind," Ms. Jeanty said. "But after going to the class, I started thinking more and more about what I can do in the business world."

Nearing the end of the day at the Boston BizCamp/Summer of Opportunity program, Tynekia Smith is gathering information for her business card.

"I need a name for a record company," she says. "And not just some stupid one--this is serious."

For Ms. Smith, the NFTE program is helping with more than the planning of a small business.

"For what I want to do, it's a good place to start me off," the 16-year-old says. "The program prepares us for life and gives us an advantage.

"Eventually, I'd like to end up working with stocks and bonds," she adds. "Stocks and bonds and working on Wall Street."

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 14

Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Teenagers Learn the Business of Becoming Entrepreneurs
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