Startup Experience Building Entrepreneurial Communities

New and growing businesses represent the principal sources of job creation and innovative activity in an economy, two factors that generally result in the rising standards of living for all. Under the right conditions, entrepreneurs have an incredible power: they help local and regional areas prosper economically, and they also serve society as they help engineer innovative solutions to problems and challenges.

Why do entrepreneurship and innovation fuel economic growth? On the surface, the answer seems intuitive: entrepreneurs create businesses and new businesses create jobs, strengthen market competition and increase productivity. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Entrepreneurs launch new products and services based on unmet needs and demands in the market;
  • New businesses created by entrepreneurs provide employment opportunities;
  • Technology has made it possible for small, entrepreneur-led businesses to expand into regional and global markets and enhance commerce and regional economic integration;
  • New technologies promote efficiency;
  • Innovation is crucial in addressing environmental challenges;
  • Innovation impacts socio-economic objectives by creating efficiency and conserving resources; and
  • Innovation happens where there is competition. 

Entrepreneurship is not something special that a few people are born with. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking that can be taught, learned, and nurtured. Our neighborhoods are full of driven and talented youth who are the creative change agents of today and key stakeholders in the economic revitalization of our communities. They are critical to future economic development. Unfortunately, the important role they play in the economic health of our communities is mostly overlooked.

This is a critical oversight since nearly 80 percent of would-be entrepreneurs are between the ages of 18 and 34! A 2005 poll from Junior Achievement (JA) found that 68.6 percent of the teenagers interviewed wanted to become entrepreneurs, even though they knew that it would not be an easy path. Despite this overwhelming interest, however, youth rarely receive any information about entrepreneurship as a career option.

Entrepreneurship education programs like the Startup Experience offer innovative solutions that fuel economic growth and help to build a more promising future by training young people in the entrepreneurship mindset skills essential to the 21st century workplace. Startup Experience encourages young people to respond constructively to community needs and opportunities. It teaches them to be responsible, enterprising individuals who become entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial thinkers by immersing them in real life learning experiences in a safe environment where they are encouraged to take risks, manage the results, and learn from the outcomes.

Through the Startup Experience entrepreneurship education program, young people learn about team formation, problem definition, user analysis, idea creation, business model innovation, customer development, prototyping, web development, fundraising and professional pitching, and get hands on experience with the tools they need in order to create a successful startup company. They also learn organizational skills, including time management, leadership development, and interpersonal skills, all of which are highly transferable skills sought by employers.

Studies have shown that positive outcomes of youth entrepreneurship training include:

  • Improved academic performance, school attendance, and educational attainment;
  • Increased problem-solving and decision-making abilities;
  • Improved interpersonal relationships, teamwork, money management, and public speaking skills;
  • Improved ability to navigate the challenges of today’s rapidly changing job market; and
  • Enhanced social psychological development (self-esteem, ego development, self-efficacy).

Ongoing research commissioned by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) found that when youth participated in entrepreneurship programs:

  • Interest in attending college increased 32 percent;
  • Occupational aspirations increased 44 percent;
  • Independent reading increased 4 percent;
  • Leadership behavior increased 8.5 percent; and
  • Belief that attaining one’s goals is within one’s control (locus of control) increased.