Getting Started with Youth Entrepreneurship: A Round-Up of Resources for Youth Entrepreneurs

Resources from curricula to hands-on opportunities for young entrepreneurs and the adults who support them.

There are many approaches to facilitating youth entrepreneurship. Some programs put student businesses at the center of the experience. Program administrators can open up resources young people can use to design, develop, and manufacture products. And educators may include the topic in their curricula, or make running a business part of the school day.

We spoke to Staci Offutt of Startable Pittsburgh, Sean Gray of All Star Code, Jason Swanson of KnowledgeWorks, Keysha Gomez of H.O.P.E. for Tomorrow, LaTrenda Sherrill of Remake Learning, and Erin Gatz of Prototype PGH, to get their recommendations for starting points for youth entrepreneurs and the parents, teachers, and program administrators who support them.

Diving into Entrepreneurship

A number of local programs give youth the firsthand experience of taking their businesses from an idea to a viable enterprise.

Startable Pittsburgh is an intensive eight-week program that teaches students ages 16–18 entrepreneurship and maker skills. Participants take business concepts from the idea stage to a marketplace where they can sell their products, talk to possible investors, and participate in a pitch competition, earning a program stipend and keeping all profits from the sale of their products.

A number of recent Startable alumni have gone on to participate in the Handmade Arcade Youth Scholarship Program, which offers craft artists and makers a free table at the popular independent craft fair, along with support in the form of workshops and access to mentorships with experienced Handmade Arcade vendors.

For young African-American and Latino men, All Star Code provides a critical introduction to entrepreneurship through the lens of coding and computer science. Through site visits and an intensive summer curriculum that exposes students to the many languages of coding, All Star alumni gain a broad introduction to the technology field, while preparing projects for the culminating “Demo Day” showcase gives them a taste for pitching their ideas to investors.

Work Opportunities

“Soft skills” such as crafting a resume and respecting office etiquette can be an important foundation to future success. Simply getting one’s feet wet with the world of work can also be critical.

Learn and Earn, a summer youth employment program delivered by Allegheny County, the City of Pittsburgh, and Partner4Work, provides youth ages 14–21 a six-week, paid summer employment experience. Participants are matched to jobs based on their interests, experience, and skills. Founded in 2015, Learn and Earn has connected close to 6,000 young people with jobs at more than 400 corporations and nonprofits.

Getting Hands-On

For entrepreneurs drawn to producing and selling their own work, from screen-printed t-shirts to wood furniture, gaining access to the tools they need can be a daunting task.

Prototype PGH, a feminist makerspace, welcomes young people to its workshops alongside their parents. And Protohaven, a nonprofit makerspace dedicated to the mastery of design and fabrication (that has acquired some of the equipment offered by the now-defunct TechShop), allows young people to join as members with their parents.

On a smaller scale, makerspaces and “fab labs” like the one at the Carnegie Science Center (or at a number of other locations throughout the region) provide excellent opportunities for young people to learn the equipment and gain the skills they need.

In the Classroom

Learning about entrepreneurship in the classroom can be an important first step in the young entrepreneur’s journey, whether it’s studying core concepts or testing out a first venture in an environment where the student feels free to fail.

Through H.O.P.E. for Tomorrow, a nonprofit that offers after-school and summer programming, students who live in Pittsburgh’s West End can participate in the Entrepreneurship Club and engage with the curriculum offered by Junior Achievement, a nonprofit dedicated to preparing young people for success in the global economy. The program has provided a springboard for a number of successful student businesses, and offers a spring entrepreneurship showcase and a fall “Business Bee” competition.

Inventionland, based in RIDC Park, offers schools hands-on, project-based learning through its Inventionland Institute, dedicated to creating an innovation framework that aims to build higher self-motivation, collaboration and teamwork, and critical thinking skills, as well as nurturing competencies in computer design and the use of tools like 3-D printers and laser cutters.

For Adults

Teachers and program administrators have a substantial role to play in supporting the efforts of youth entrepreneurs.

Ashoka Changemakers takes a pedagogical approach to developing entrepreneurial skills, offering courses and boot camps to emerging innovators that touch on themes like failure and resilience, fundraising, and scaling, among other competencies.

And Grantmakers for Education is a network of grantmakers who are dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all learners. Along with regular educational programming, the organization offers an annual conference where stakeholders from across the nation come to share new ideas for facilitating youth entrepreneurship.

Published December 12, 2018

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