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Entrepreneurship Is Taught Through Life, Not In The Classroom

Yesterday a group of students from my alma mater, the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, came to visit.  They were spending a week in Silicon Valley as part of their spring break.

I've long privately urged McIntire to become more entrepreneur friendly.  When I was a student at U.Va. in the late 90's, it was a very unfriendly place for entrepreneurs.  It seems that things are finally changing, and the fact that these students were in California on spring break says a lot about their enthusiasm for tech startups.  I've also written in the past about how high school students have seemed more receptive and responsive to becoming entrepreneurs than college students.  It's almost like if one doesn't get introduced to the hunger to be an entrepreneur at young age, it becomes hard to impossible to stoke it later.  But this trip made me feel like there's hope for helping people find a passion for entrepreneurship later in life.  No matter what, though, I stressed to the students that came to visit that the passion had to come from within them.  The best a school can do is support those that want it badly enough to try.

We spent an hour together, and I shared stories with them about how I paid for college by making UVa-branded Frisbees, and sold a card called the Hoos Savings Club Card.  (It was way ahead of it's time -- basically an analog version of a daily deals service like Groupon).  Here are some related pics:

I'd go around to shops in the Charlottesville area, get them to agree to provide discounts to students for the school year, print the discounts on the back of the card, and sell the card for $20 to students.  For anyone in college today, it's a concept that would work just as well now as it did 15 years ago, and it's a great way to make $20k to $50k while you're in school, if you're willing to have a little bit of hustle.  

A 9th Grader Takes a Leap that Terrifies MBA Students

I judged the NFTE Quarter Final competition at a local San Francisco high school today.  NFTE is an organization that teaches entrepreneurship to students in high school and younger. One of the pitches today was made by 9th grader Simran Pabla around a pilot program she's running at her school:  A business called Ready4Rain, which offers umbrellas to students so they don't get wet when they're going from building to building between classes.  You can see her full pitch to the judges here. I was so impressed with her that I later interviewed her in the school's cafeteria.  Here's a 9th grader who's currently running a pilot program for a startup concept she had.  And she's not alone.  Jocelyn Hernandez has sold over 20 of her custom iPhone cases at $40 each via her company, Functional Couture.  And Mariana Ponce has sold over 100 of her Corny Cups at $2.50 each.  In the past, I've done talks with Stanford MBAs, UVA McIntire business school students, and Georgetown MBAs and I consistently find that many of them are terrified to take the leap to becoming an entrepreneur by actually doing something, and not just talking about it.  Consistently, high school or younger age kids are willing to take more risks than college students.  It's almost like some switch gets flipped at some point in college that causes many students to stop seeing opportunities to be entrepreneurial, and become afraid to try jumping into the ones they do see. The interview above with Simran is great, partly because she's so honest about her motivations.  She simply saw an opportunity to solve a problem, and went for it.  She has no mortgage to worry about.  No kids to take care of.  Nothing to keep her from simply jumping to solve the problem she saw in front of her.  She just proves how simple it is to become an entrepreneur when it's what you really want to do. So, kudos to Simran, Jocelyn, Mariana and their NFTE colleagues.  I hope they never lose that risk-taking spirit.  What may just seem to be a high school competition is actually an opportunity to effect massive change through entrepreneurism.  The great thing about "creating something from nothing" is that nobody cares how old you are when you do it.  There's no reason any of these ideas couldn't morph into huge, real businesses.  All these kids need is the will to do it, and the means to try. If you're interested in volunteering for NFTE (something I love to do), drop me a comment below and I'll introduce you to someone who can help you figure out how you can really add value to the program.

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