Entrepreneurship is an elective course taught at all Success Academy middle schools. The six-week course ends with a team from each school pitching a business or product to a review panel of business professionals. Think of it as a kid-friendly, academically rigorous version of “Shark Tank,” the reality TV show that features aspiring entrepreneurs competing for investors’ money.
Recently, a team of five SA Harlem East scholars who took my entrepreneurship class faced a panel of “potential investors” and presented their product: a phone app called Fun Chore that encourages kids to complete chores by earning rewards. My students nailed their presentation and took first place in the competition. Even though they didn’t receive investment money for their idea (at least not yet), the experience boosted their confidence and made them realize that they can be real entrepreneurs one day.
How does the journey begin? Our schools partner with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, an organization that provides opportunities for low-income students to plan for successful futures. When students first arrive to my entrepreneurship class, they learn about economics and marketing. My scholars then apply what they have learned to brainstorm ideas in teams and come up with a successful business concept. Next comes the test: Each team presents their idea to the rest of the class. Their peers ask questions and decide if they like the idea or if the team needs to go back to the drawing board. This past winter, one group considered opening a three-story video game store and another group had an idea for a restaurant with an indoor basketball court. Business professionals Lorenzo Smith and Andrew Glaze, who volunteer as mentors and also serve on SA leadership councils, helped my students recognize the strengths and flaws in their proposals. Both of them are accomplished individuals; Mr. Smith is a former U.S. Olympian, and Mr. Glaze served in the U.S. Army, and now the two have successful careers in finance. They asked students to focus on developing an app for a product that could solve a problem. My students look up to them and took their advice to heart.
Sebastian, a seventh grader, came up with the idea for Fun Chore. The phone app lets parents assign their child a list of chores, which the child checks off when done. When the parents confirm that the chores have been satisfactorily completed, a prize is unlocked. Sebastian and his teammates said the idea came from a problem they all face at home. Sebastian told me he really dislikes cleaning his room and Massaran, a sixth grader, confessed that she bribes her little sister to do chores for her. Once the idea was born, the team got to work on the details of their proposal. Rodel, a sixth grader, was the “king of research” and helped the team find facts for their presentation. Massaran, who is a charismatic and outspoken leader, helped her teammates work on their public speaking skills. Jefferson, Fusein, and Summer also had important roles to play. All of them practiced the presentation in class and after school.
At the competition, their preparation and hard work showed. “Studies have shown kids learn life skills through chores and become more empathetic,” Sebastian said at the start of their presentation. “According to Psychology Today Magazine,” he continued, “kids spend an average of four hours a week on chores and 14 hours a week watching TV. We want to change that.”
The panel of businessmen was sold on the idea. Of the five teams in the competition, my scholars came in first. I hope their success convinced them that they can pursue careers as entrepreneurs. But if they leave this experience with just one lesson, I would like it to be the understanding that preparation is the key to success in any career. If scholars can present a well thought-out business idea at age 10 or 12 to a group of successful business professionals, they can certainly land their dream job in a future interview.