Teaching Entrepreneurship: Turning “Street Smarts” Into “Business Smarts”

Posted by | March 1, 2011

Almost half of the students who enter a Philadelphia public high school don’t graduate. That’s a devastating and sad statistic. It condemns these students to a succession of low wage jobs with limited security and minimal chance of career advancement.

I think about that statistic sometimes as I visit the 15 schools where my organization, NFTE Philadelphia, holds classes in entrepreneurship. As the executive director of  NFTE Philadelphia — which stands for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship — I’m proud to say that in the four years we’ve been in operation in Philadelphia, we’ve served over 1,500 students from low income communities and have seen many NFTE students not only graduate from high school but go on to college.

So how do you teach entrepreneurship?  Peter J. Boni, President and CEO of Safeguard Scientifics ― the founding sponsor of NFTE Philadelphia in 2006 ― likes to say that a successful entrepreneur has to have an “attitude,” or the ability to persevere in the face of adversity and challenge.   

Our NFTE students definitely have that perseverance. They have to face peers who often don’t believe in the value of education and see little relevancy to their lives. Many NFTE students hold down multiple jobs to help pay the bills at home.  They live in neighborhoods that offer little perspective on the empowering opportunity offered to those who commit themselves to a life of achievement.

NFTE helps students develop Peter’s entrepreneurial attitude by bringing the real world into their classroom. They gain access to business leaders and mentors from the business community who they otherwise would never have the chance to meet. Many have “street smarts” which we want to turn into “business smarts.”

Now the White House has recognized NFTE’s goals by making it a member of the Startup America Partnership, a public/private partnership to assist entrepreneurs. 

In less than two months, it will be time for the fourth annual NFTE Philadelphia Citywide Business Plan competition, where NFTE students will present business plans they’ve created to a panel of judges composed of business leaders and entrepreneurs from throughout the Philadelphia area.

Besides a strong plan, each student needs the poise to present it well. The judges pay close attention and ask detailed questions. I’m always impressed by the confidence displayed by these young people as they explain their ideas to an audience that is worlds away from the neighborhoods in which they live. I hope to introduce you to some of these competitors in the months ahead.

I like to say that you have the right to “make it,” no matter where you come from. Our kids will use the tools and confidence they learn from NFTE to make it. They won’t be part of that drop-out statistic.

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