At Portsmouth High School, students in Tiffany D’Amour’s business classes are getting a lesson in entrepreneurship.
The class, aptly titled Entrepreneurship, is the culmination of a four-course business curriculum (the first three are Introduction to Business, Marketing and Sales, and Accounting) at the New Hampshire school. As part of the course, students write business plans and pitch them to judges, local Rotarians, and angel investors.
“It’s not just about teaching students to be entrepreneurs,” said D’Amour, who majored in entrepreneurship venture creation in college. “It’s more teaching the entrepreneurial spirit—having the ability to creatively find solutions for the various problems that exist in society.”
D’Amour’s class is just one of many programs, courses, and initiatives that engage teenagers in entrepreneurial activities to set them up for long-term success. All rooted in the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, these programs prepare students for college, teach them to follow their passions, and—for some—inspire them to create their own ventures.
For students not enrolled at high schools with entrepreneurship courses, city-based programs and area colleges offer their own series of educational opportunities for teens. Far from an exhaustive list, below are programs offered in the Boston area.
Living Like a College Student, Learning Like an Entrepreneur
Rising juniors and seniors can earn four college credits through Babson College’s Summer Study for High School Students. Through the Babson Entrepreneurial Development Experience class, students learn about entrepreneurship while building leadership, communication, presentation, and critical-thinking skills. The course covers everything from design thinking to business ideation and reframing failure.
“In summer study, students not only learn the concept of entrepreneurship, they actively think about how to execute it,” said Janai Mungalsingh, program and curriculum administrator of Youth Programs at Babson College. “It’s rewarding to have them leave and you know they are going to continue to use those skills over and over again.”
Throughout the course, students use their new entrepreneurial skillset and work in teams to develop a venture idea that creates economic and social value. Past ideas include ExpanShoe, an expandable shoe for kids in communities with limited access to proper footwear.
Outside of the classroom, students visit Boston-area companies such as TripAdvisor, listen to guest speakers from companies such as Verizon Wireless, and share their stories, culture, and experiences with fellow participants.
A Launch Pad for Young Founders
Another summertime program, MIT Launch Summer (now called LaunchX), gathers promising high school students from across the country to spend four weeks becoming entrepreneurs. The program’s coursework incorporates lessons on the foundations of entrepreneurship, idea development, Disciplined Entrepreneurship, and development of professional skills.
The goal of MIT Launch Summer isn’t simply to have students ideate a venture; instead, they’ll start one. Students form teams and start a company that “solves a real need in a differentiated way.” Along the way, they receive access to MIT’s resources and facilities, and work with mentors and a mock board of directors of local experts.
Per the MIT Launch Summer website, more than 85 high school startups have been launched through the program, and more than 50 percent grow even after the conclusion of the program. Past ventures include Elore, an online community for coders; Speak, a mobile game where users play games that challenge their public speaking skills; and Radius, an app that notifies parents of their children’s whereabouts.
Working with Family Towards an Entrepreneurial Future
Adding a family twist to the concept of entrepreneurial education, Foundations for the Future is a program for teens and their business-minded parents. The five-day summer program from Babson Executive Education is based on the Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® methodology of balancing action, experimentation, and creativity with a deep understanding of business fundamentals. Participants spend a week on campus taking classes, visiting Boston-area companies, networking with guest speakers, and taking part in leisure activities. In the end, teens and parents build problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills.
For faculty director Matt Allen, the addition of parents into the mix brings the true value of the program. “We’ve found that almost every startup begins with some form of family involvement or support, be it capital, knowledge, access to networks, or just moral support,” he said. “The reality is that families play a significant role in influencing their members, and entrepreneurship is not immune to this influence.”
Aside from teaching entrepreneurship as an avenue for success, the program serves as a bonding experience that encourages open communication between parent and teen. “It gently forces both sides to talk about things they don’t always talk about at home: finances, work ethic, motivation, business plans,” said Allen. “[Past participants] have described this as one of the most impactful components of the program.”
Igniting Potential, Building a Future
To propel youth from under-resourced communities towards success in high school, college and career, BUILD gives Boston-area students a lesson in experiential entrepreneurship. Here’s how it works: BUILD partners with public high schools to provide an elective class. In the course, BUILD mentors teach 9th through 12th graders the basics of entrepreneurship—from developing a business plan to securing capital and running the venture.
Outside of the classroom, students showcase and sell their products at a spring product bazaar and participate in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition.
The hands-on BUILD curriculum helps students understand the value of hard work, reduces dropout rates, and sets students on the path to college. According to BUILD Boston’s website: “As they reap the rewards—from keeping the profits to gaining self-confidence—they know there is a connection between hard work and creating a stronger community.”
BUILD serves 250 students in five Boston-area partner high schools. BUILD classes also run in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
A Friendly, Entrepreneurial Competition
In the spring, teams of students from Boston-area high schools can compete for the Babson Boston Cup. In this “battle of the ventures,” students identify opportunities for innovation in their communities and pitch their ideas to peers and industry experts. The catch? Their pitch is limited to three minutes and three slides. This “rocket”-style pitch focuses on the opportunity, the market, and feasibility. The winning team takes home a cash prize and trophy to display proudly in the halls throughout the academic year.
The Boston Cup is a culmination of larger “train the trainer” programs from Babson College’s Lewis Institute for Social Innovation that prepare high school educators to teach students entrepreneurial thinking. Through that education, students identify and explore the opportunities they ultimately pitch at the cup.
For Emily Weiner, associate director of the Lewis Institute, educating educators is an important part of teaching entrepreneurial thinking to younger and younger populations. “This is part of our ecosystem,” she said. “We want to activate young people to go out and do something that matters.”
Editor’s note: This story is one of three that explores the value of teaching entrepreneurship to young populations. For more on this topic, read Youth Entrepreneurship: A Valuable Life Lesson and 3 Initiatives Teaching Entrepreneurial Skills to Pre-Teens.