Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

Why Entrepreneurs Are Important Role Models for Creative Kids

When Steve Jobs was 12, he looked up Bill Hewlett, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, in the phone book, called him up, and asked if he had any spare parts for the frequency counter he was building in school. Hewlett helped Jobs out with the frequency counter, and then ended up offering him a job on the HP assembly line that summer.

You know the rest of the story.

The benefits of teaching kids entrepreneurship skills have been written about widely. Letting kids build their own businesses gives them hands-on experience solving tough challenges. But working with role models who are entrepreneurs themselves, like Jobs did with Hewlett, can be an amazing bonus that nurtures kids’ entrepreneurial spirit and allows them to envision what’s truly possible.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh’s Startup Something project aims to expose kids to local role models who have become their own bosses. The program brings kids on visits to local technology startups like iTwixie, Thread International, and Idea Foundry.

Startup Something recently matched students with Pittsburgh video game creators from Digital Dream Labs, creators of the cloudBoard video game, for a workshop about game design. Teens were challenged to think like designers as they reimagined the classic board game checkers. First, they pinpointed what they didn’t like about the game. Then, working with their mentors, they incorporated new elements like dice and playing cards, testing each new idea as they went along. At the end, the Digital Dream Labs team explained how their cloudBoard video game was transformed from an idea into a retail product.

To help close the still shocking gap between the number of women and men in STEM careers, CanTEEN offers an interactive game that guides girls through an array of STEM careers with challenges and questions, including some about science greats like Marie Curie and Sally Ride. CanTEEN also sponsors Girls Engaged in Math and Science, or GEMS, which are afterschool workshops that feature local female role models in STEM careers.

Sejal Hathi, a young entrepreneur and medical student who heads up both GirlTank and S2 Capital, shares her thoughts about the importance of young female entrepreneurs connecting with mentors in a piece in the Huffington Post. Her own mentors, she writes, supported her ambitions and helped her find the resources to build her websites. Without these role models, she says, too many young entrepreneurs get lost in the process.

Workshops and afterschool programs are a critical first step for fostering future entrepreneurs, but internships and apprenticeships are also invaluable. The STEAMM Academy (the extra “M” stands for medicine) at Highlands High School is a school-within-a-school that lets kids take part in internship and shadowing opportunities at local partner businesses in the manufacturing, health care, and design sectors. They can also earn up to 23 credits toward a college degree.

Apprenticeships like these can even turn into jobs, which helps both young people graduating in a tough economy and manufacturing employers who are searching high and low for enough qualified people, according to a recent New York Times story.

Beyond helping kids envision their future, programs like these can help cities and regions build their own economic futures. Cities such as Pittsburgh, which suffered population loss during the long years of economic retrenchment, are anxious to keep talented young people at home to build the next economic resurgence. Increasing the capacity on the ground to engage children early is an important first step to stemming brain drain and building a vibrant local economy because increasingly, that economy will be built on the entrepreneurial spirit.

How to Make Sure Every Child is “Innovation Ready”? Teach Entrepreneurship

Kids pretty much have a monopoly on the lemonade stand industry. They’re especially adept at managing the natural market forces at play—the heat index, traffic flow, demand for new products like iced tea, maybe even competition. In other words, they have a natural entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to problem solve—two skills that evidence shows will be needed more than ever in the future economy.

The jobs of the future will demand that workers reinvent themselves over and over again. That requires critical thinking, lifelong learning, and a sense that workers have to invent their jobs as they do them in order to stay ahead of the curve—the entrepreneurial mindset in action. Some schools are already cultivating entrepreneurial skills with specialized programs. But museums and other institutions of informal learning may be even better suited to teach this skill than traditional elementary and secondary schools.

“Informal learning environments tolerate failure better than schools. Perhaps many teachers have too little time to allow students to form and pursue their own questions and too much ground to cover in the curriculum and for standardized tests,” writes Dennis Bartels in Scientific American. Bartels writes that informal learning environments like museums or Maker Faires encourage kids to follow their own passions, ask deeper questions, and become intrinsically motivated to learn.

Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner defined in a recent New York Times interview how exactly problem solving and the intrinsic desire to learn will be critical in the future. “The capacity to innovate—the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life—and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think—to ask the right questions—and to take initiative,” Wagner says.

Because Siri and our smartphones mean we no longer have to be a walking encyclopedia of facts, we can turn our attention the higher-order skills like the ability to innovate, adapt, ask questions, and reason—skills that will be in high demand when kids today graduate.

The winners of Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards exemplify those critical skills. First placer Chelsea Sloan (also the first woman to win the competition) founded Uptown Cheapskate, a fashion-exchange franchise that now has 20 locations in 12 states. Other winners include Elizabeth Aguirre Moreno Valle, who started a company that provides fresh fruit kiosks at schools, and Mandar Tulankar, who invented a shoe charger that uses the pressure created by walking to power cell phones.

While the EOGSE winners might already be bona-fide entrepreneurs, making a profit isn’t the goal for teaching kids the entrepreneurial mindset. To prepare kids for the future, educators must create entrepreneurs, in spirit at least.

The Nueva School’s entrepreneurship elective course is leading the pack in this respect. It offers  seventh and eighth graders the chance to invent things they find a need for by investigating problems and interviewing experts. The course goes a step further and teaches students to create business models and even meet with venture capitalists and social entrepreneurs. For example, when students followed their own curiosity, it led to ideas for a soap dispenser showerhead, a newly designed trumpet mouthpiece, and an expandable wheelchair.  Their discovery process is exactly what Wagner emphasizes when he says that learning how to learn is the most valuable skill for the future.

Other schools, such as the 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation’s Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21, are developing new ways to teach 21st century skills, like problem solving and critical thinking, which are so necessary for entrepreneurship.

In Colorado, YouthBiz is training young people to organize, investigate, plan, and eventually launch their own profitable businesses. And in Pittsburgh, Entrepreneuring Youth coaches young people through creating and managing their own businesses.

These opportunities come none too soon. As Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, wrote in his New York Times column:

This is dangerous at a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job …. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried—made obsolete—faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child “college ready” but “innovation ready”—ready to add value to whatever they do.

Bain Capital backs Thorley Industries as part of $20M raise

Pittsburgh’s own Thorley Industries, better known as 4moms, the company behind the Origami folding stroller and the MamaRoo baby bouncer, looks to grow its operation amidst a recent multi-million dollar investment by Bain Capital.

Malia Spencer of the Pittsburgh Business Times has more:

Robotics firm Thorley Industries, which makes products aimed at the tiniest consumers, has raised $20 million in a round led by Boston-based Bain Capital Ventures, the firms said on Aug. 9.

Bain Capital Ventures is the venture capital arm of Bain Capital, the private investment company founded by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

With this deal, Bain Capital Ventures Managing Director Scott Friend and Principal Brett Garrett joined Thorley’s board, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Thorley does business as 4moms and makes a suite of baby products, including a power-folding stroller called Origami and a robotic bouncy seat called MamaRoo.

The company’s latest product, THe Breeze, an easy-open playpen, is set for release in September. The funding is slated for product development, global expansion and supply chain and logistics to meet growing demand.

Congratulations to the folks at 4moms! Read the full story with a subscription to the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Reminder: PGH Mini Maker Faire 2012

Makers, hackers, gearheads, and tinkerers, this is your last chance! The final deadline to submit applications to participate in the second annual Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire is TOMORROW, Wednesday, August 15th! In order to show off your gadgets and gizmos, or even sell an invention or two, you need to register to participate. This is the second, and final, call for makers. Don’t let this awesome opportunity slip past you!


This year’s Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire promises to be even more exciting than last year! Taking place at the Buhl Community Park on Children’s Way in the North Side, the faire will feature projects from local robotics to guerilla knitters to kid inventors! With such a diverse group of registered participants, there is guaranteed to be something to please everybody. Prices for admission vary, with discounts for Senior Citizens, Hack PGH and Children’s Museum Members, as well as children under 2! Don’t miss this great opportunity to see what’s being made, hacked, geared up, and tinkered with in the Greater Pittsburgh Region.


When: September 22nd from 10am until 4pm

Where: Buhl Community Park & the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

10 Children’s Way, Allegheny Square West, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

iQ Kids Radio Gains JLP Support

It was recently announced that the Junior League of Pittsburgh (JLP) has adopted iQ KidsRadio as their three year signature project. As a founding partner, JLP will assume financial responsibility of support totaling $45,000, in addition to administrative and volunteer support. These varieties of assistance will be aimed towards the business and opportunity planning, as well as event planning of iQ Kids Radio.

Developed through the partnership of WQEDand SLB Radio Productions, iQ KidsRadio serves the purpose of providing a content driven radio station to educate youth and their parents alike. Described in the release as “an innovative new model of engagement for children and families that meets the need for an all-education, trusted radio channel that caregivers can rely on.”

As much of the young population spends upwards up eleven hours a day interacting with multimedia, radio, television, video games, computers, etc., and is easily influenced by its content, there is a need to monitor what message is being portrayed and how that message should be received and administered. iQ Kids Radio seeks to fill that void in the monitoring of multimedia, through the non-commercial, educational content of their radio station.

Set to launch in early 2013, iQ KidsRadio will educate both children and parents by providing a variety of information. The press release announcing the JLP’s support of the radio station stated,

“…shows may feature storytelling, language lessons, music from diverse genres and music listening tips, children’s literature, food chemistry, and other subjects that strengthen academic achievement, sharpen core life skills, and engage children and adults together. Programming also will include youth-created music, storytelling, and news/commentary based on listener submissions and SLB’s work with more than 8,000 children annually.”

The variety of education content that will become available to families through the iQ KidsRadio has the potential to advance the education of many people across the nation, and unite the listening households into a single, learning entity.

For more information about iQ KidsRadio, please visit www.iQkidsradio.org.