Energizing Young Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities Craig Schroeder Lisa Heinert Lisa Bauer Deborah Markley Karen Dabson About the Authors and the Organizations Craig Schroeder is Senior Associate with the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, focused on community-based business succession planning, youth entrepreneurship and Home Town Competitiveness. Lisa Heinert is the coordinator of the HomeTown Competitiveness program and serves as co-leader for the HTC Youth Pillar. Lisa Bauer is the Editor of the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship’s E of the Month series.
Deborah Markley is Managing Director and Director of Research for the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. Karen Dabson is Director of Program Development and Marketing for the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship strives to be the focal point for entrepreneurship development in rural America. We achieve this mission by collaborating with individuals and organizations engaged in the study, practice and policy of rural entrepreneurship. The Center conducts practice-driven research and evaluation to develop insights into model practices and other learning.
The Center hares this learning with practitioners and policymakers to foster new approaches to rural economic development. HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC) is a comprehensive approach to longterm rural community sustainability. This approach goes beyond the traditional tunnel vision of economic development. HTC helps the community to focus on four interrelated strategies that depend on each other for ultimate success: ??? Developing Leadership ??? Energizing Entrepreneurs ??? Engaging Youth ??? Increasing Charitable Giving Contents About this Rural America….. Page 3 Moving Page 3 The View from Page 12 Bringing the Pieces
Practices Together – The HomeTown Competitiveness Model………………………….. Page 14 Community Success Page 18 Stories of Youth ??” Page 22 Youth Entrepreneur Snapshots……………………………………. Page 23 Energizing Young Entrepreneur Page 24 Concluding Thoughts on Youth Stories ??” Entrepreneurship……………….. page 25 2 About this Publication This publication brings together significant work on youth entrepreneurship completed by the staff of the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and the staff of HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC), a partnership between the Nebraska
Community Foundation, the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, the Center for Rural Affairs and the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. Any time we conduct a workshop or training, or visit with community practitioners, interest in youth entrepreneurship is always high. We have gained some valuable ideas from youth and their communities across rural America, and thought it was time to share those lessons along with some tools and strategies for engaging young people. We have done this by creating one online publication that can be easily accessed by community practitioners and policymakers alike.
In this guide, we will particularly focus on the HTC model. You will also find some snapshots and stories of young entrepreneurs and the communities that support them so you can experience the passion and creativity that we see in rural places all across the country. We hope you are inspired to invite a young person in your community to lunch and really listen to his or her dreams of becoming an entrepreneur! More resources for entrepreneurship development can be found at wrww. energizingentrepreneurs. org and www. htcnebraska. rg. The View from Rural America Based on our field work, we have learned that a growing number of young people in America view entrepreneurship as a desirable career path. They recognize that the economy has changed dramatically over the past decade, and that the Internet is creating new opportunities for small businesses to compete and be real wealth generators. Rural youth recognize that markets that were not accessible before the advent of the World Wide Web can now be successfully reached even from the most remote community.
As a result, they are seeking out entrepreneurship classes in their schools and starting micro-businesses as early as elementary school. Who are these young entrepreneurs? They range from an elementary school student perating a successful lemonade stand on a hot summer afternoon, to a recent graduate who starts a new venture or begins to revitalize an existing business. Young entrepreneurs exhibit a passion to create. When channeled and combined with with significant wealth and Job creation potential. Engaging, equipping and supporting young entrepreneurs are keys to long-term vitality and sustainability of rural communities. We are witnessing another trend in our work with rural communities – a growing number of high school and college students would prefer to return to their rural hometowns if good career opportunities were available. The burgeoning interest in entrepreneurial careers combined with the desire to “come home” create significant opportunities for rural leaders to begin to reverse historic outmigration trends and revitalize their communities. Characteristics of Young Entrepreneurs As a starting point, it is important to understand that there is no single definition of a young entrepreneur.
Each young person is unique, with strengths, weaknesses, relationships and experiences that shape who he or she is. However, there are certain traits or characteristics that can help identify an entrepreneurial young person. Finding Young Entrepreneurs Understanding characteristics of young entrepreneurs is important because entrepreneurial youth often do not come to mind when we think about young people in our community. Instead, we might name the student body president, the star football or volleyball player, or the honor roll student.
While some of these young people may be entrepreneurial, there is another group of youth that is less visible so you need to seek them out. Why don’t these young people come to mind? They may spend their free time in Dad’s shop inventing or in Mom’s craft room creating, so they are “invisible” to you. They may work in their parents’ business after school because they enjoy it, or they may be busy operating their lawn care or web design business. Young entrepreneurs enjoy the creative process so much that, while others are focused on sports and extracurricular activities, young entrepreneurs are focused on their business dreams.
Entrepreneurial youth may appear introverted because they know they are wired differently than their peers and, at this age, fitting in is a big deal. Remember, in the adult population, only one in 10 Americans is an entrepreneur. The percentage may be higher among young people, but they are still minority among their classmates. Entrepreneurial youth may not be the high academic achievers. You may have heard the phrase, “A and B students work for C and D students”. Perhaps a more positive statement would be, “Smart people work for visionaries”.
Young entrepreneurs can get lost in class because they are daydreaming about the project they are working on at home. They may 4 not see how what they are learning in the classroom relates to their entrepreneurial interests and lose focus in school. history, but excel in art, vocational courses, music, or computer programming where hey can apply their creative skills more directly. While not all entrepreneurial youth express the same traits, this may be an indicator that teachers and school administers can use to help identify young people with entrepreneurial aspirations.
These examples are not excuses for doing poorly in school. Rather, low academic achievement may be an indicator of a young entrepreneur, suggesting that we need to engage these students in ways that make core subjects more relevant for them. For example, an entrepreneurship class could incorporate math, accounting, language arts, or library research into the curriculum. Standard classes could integrate entrepreneurial issues, such as a math class that offers problems related to business operation.
When entrepreneurial youth combine core subjects with an idea they are working on, or a problem they want to solve, academic achievement may improve because students connect the importance of learning with their creative talent and curious nature. Young entrepreneurs may already be in business. They may have one or more micro- businesses and even employ several of their classmates or siblings. Teachers and fellow students are good sources of information about these young people. Or, ask round town to see if people know young people with small businesses; look for their flyers in the local coffee shop.
Needs (and Wants) of Young Entrepreneurs Young entrepreneurs have some needs similar to those of adult entrepreneurs. They need space to be creative. They need help creating a business plan around their idea. They are not likely to be proficient in all three of the primary functions of business: production, management and marketing. There are some important differences as well. Youth have limited real world experience to lean on. Typically, students are not well connected to adults in economic development roles and so they ay not know where to go for help.
They may also find it difficult to get adults to take them seriously. Perhaps most importantly, adults want to protect youth from failure. If their ideas seem unrealistic, teachers and parents may try to discourage them from even trying. But, when we ask adult entrepreneurs if they learned more from their failures or their successes, we get a smile with the reply, “From my 5 failures. ” Why, then, are we afraid to let our youth fail? Instead, we should be supporting our young people as they try and, yes, fail, so that they learn and avoid bigger mistakes later in life. So, what do young entrepreneurs want?
First and foremost, they want to be taken seriously and to have the opportunity to develop and test their ideas. They would like to learn from adults with the experience to help them and want regular and continuing encouragement – even if they fail on their first, second or third attempt. Many of them want to come back to their hometowns and see entrepreneurship as a way of enabling their return. Just like adult entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs want opportunities to come together with their peers, to feel part of a group of like-minded young people and to reative but in a supportive, nurturing environment.
Moving Forward You may have looked around at your rural community and found some young entrepreneurs and others who are dreaming about their businesses. You may have heard from friends and neighbors about a daughter who would like to come home and start her dental practice or about a nephew who would like to return and take over the familys small manufacturing plant. You have seen the interest and the potential, but how can the community support the aspirations of these creative young people? This section provides some ideas for moving forward and supporting outh entrepreneurship in your community. Engaging Young Entrepreneurs To be successful in youth entrepreneurship, you need to start young and implement a comprehensive strategy that ties together education, real world experience and community support. You need to develop effective ways of engaging with young entrepreneurs. Let’s take a moment to look at the roles of schools, the community and adult mentors in this engagement strategy. Role for the Schools. Making education relevant to young entrepreneurs – the earlier, the better – is important to their academic success and preparation for adulthood. An essential element in this work is entrepreneurship education.
Ideally, entrepreneurial concepts should be integrated into curriculum from elementary school to post-secondary education. Starting early is important because young entrepreneurs begin expressing their traits at a very young age. Waiting until the Junior or senior year of high school is really too late for these students. Either they try to figure things out on their own, and in the process take their focus off school, or they will give up and Join the mainstream path of college prep classes with the hope of finding a Job that allows them to use their creative ntrepreneurial talents.
College may indeed be the proper path for a young entrepreneur but it needs to be an enhancement to their entrepreneurial development, not a substitute because alternatives are not available. On a practical level, making products to sell in kindergarten, learning about local entrepreneurs in elementary state history curriculum, and offering entrepreneurship classes in Junior high and high school are great ways to enhance the K-12 curriculum for entrepreneurial youth. Importantly, entrepreneurship does not need to be a stand alone class.
It can be integrated into existing courses and benefit all students through hands-on exercises and community-based projects. Even those that are not entrepreneurial will gain a better understanding of small business ownership and operation, possibly grooming them for entrepreneurial support roles within their communities. Role for the Community. Community support of young entrepreneurs can take several forms. The community can serve as a learning laboratory in concert with the local school – an apprenticeship can provide real-world, practical experience to enhance the classroom learning experience.
Apprenticeships also help expose Entrepreneur Fair where young entrepreneurs are recognized and their products are sold. Some young entrepreneurs may be interested in applying their entrepreneurial skills in non-profit and public sector roles. One of the best ways to do this is to provide space for youth in local organizations and on civic boards. However, this 7 is not Just a learning experience for youth. Young people have valuable insights about their community and what may be needed to make it a better place for young people to live.
By engaging young people in community leadership and service roles, e also help them develop healthy self-esteem and a sense of community “ownership” through service to others. Positive experiences tied to entrepreneurship education may lead more young people to consider returning to the community after college and some career exposure. Their experience during high school helps them feel that the community is a supportive environment and they have developed the skills to be successful there.
Some young entrepreneurs believe they have a better chance of being successful in a small community where everyone knows them, versus a large city where they are Just ne of many people competing for customers. The community has an important role and existing resources it can opt to use to support young entrepreneurs. However you choose to engage, this work is most effective through open communication with individual young people about their unique goals and how the community can help make them a reality.
When this dialogue is connected to adult role models and mentors, it can have profound impact upon young people. Role for Adult Mentors. As you think back on your experience as a young person, are there one or two adults that you remember fondly? We ask each group of adults we work with this question and the responses are often moving and heartfelt. We hear stories about a teacher, a grandparent, a business person or a neighbor. We hear, “They helped me figure out who I am” or “They helped me believe in myself. ” We have never had an adult say, “They told me the right answers” or “They put me down all the time. Young people today need the same kind of support and encouragement that we needed as youth. However, some youth are not getting enough time with the adults who can help them fgure out who they are, how the world works, and what heir role is in society. Whatever the reasons for this change, what is important in our discussion about the role of mentors is to understand that adults are important in the lives of youth and that we should make time to be positive role models – to listen, encourage and support the young people in our lives. Encouraging Young People to “Come Home” The likelihood of young entrepreneurs returning to their home communities can be enhanced by connecting them with specific business opportunities, either a new concert with teachers can open a dialog with young entrepreneurs to determine their areer goals and then work to match local business opportunities with those goals. For example, a community leader could approach a young person interested in owning a contracting business and let her know that the community needs such a business and would support her.
There may even be an older owner of a contracting business who might consider working with that young person to purchase the business – with community support through a revolving loan program or the use of business succession tools such as life insurance. College scholarships are other resources rarely used to attract young people home. While most communities rovide scholarships to graduating seniors, these often go to students who perform exceptionally in academics, sports or another extracurricular activity.
However, if a community wants to encourage entrepreneurial students to return home, a scholarship is an excellent way to convey this message. Scholarship applications can also provide the community with information about students who have an interest in returning home, and can include stipulations about coming home to work. HTC Scholarship Example. One of the private sector HTC sponsors provides college scholarships to students in the communities where they have facilities. For years, applicants have been asked if they have an interest in returning home in the future.
Before youth were engaged through HTC, responses were typically vague and noncommittal. In the three years since HTC, applicants are much more positive and specific about their plans for coming home. One young woman wants to get a degree in Journalism and return to the region as a newspaper owner. This information was conveyed to local leaders and a dialogue was opened with this young person about how her community could help make her goal a reality. This example demonstrates how a scholarship, connected with community ngagement, can have a real impact on young entrepreneurs and the future of the community.
There are adults in your community who want to be role models and mentors to young entrepreneurs. Perhaps it is a business person who had a mentor and 9 wants to give back by helping a young entrepreneur learn about business at an early age. Perhaps it is a retired teacher who wants to stay involved with students and has great skills as a mentor. Maybe it is a pastor, a grandmother, the Mayor, or even you! Adult mentors… Help identify and engage entrepreneurial young people in the community. Listen to heir ideas and questions in encouraging and supportive ways. Reinforce the value of young people to adults in the community.
Emphasize small town values and benefits to young people. Connect youth with community, business and career opportunities. Because this is a new approach to community development, we have shared some insights from our HTC fieldwork and adult mentor workshops in the box below. Being a Successful Adult Mentor To be effective, adult mentors need to engage youth in ways that build character following six elements are critical to being a successful adult mentor: Meet the young person where he or she is. An adult mentor will rarely “connect” with a young person in how they think about most issues.
However, the adult mentor must make the effort to understand the young person’s perspective. This does not mean the mentor must agree with the young person. Rather this is the starting point in building a relationship between the mentor and a young person who is discovering who they are as an individual and what they believe about the world around them. Actively listen to the young person. Listening is hard work, especially when a young person sees things from a very different perspective and uses unfamiliar phrases to xpress him- or herself.
However, it is critical that the adult mentor actively listen to the young person when they talk about their ideas, dreams, and also their frustrations. Make eye contact and don’t interrupt – do ask questions that probe deeper. Take the time to really get to know the young person as an individual. Continued next page 10 Being a Successful Adult Mentor (continued) Take questions seriously and resist the temptation to provide a young person with the “right answers”. Young people value individual discovery over hard and fast answers, especially when they are ommunicated by another person as the only right answer.
The better approach is to encourage young people to find the right answers by asking exploratory questions and offering perspective when appropriate. This is hard and it takes practice. Being honest in the beginning that this is challenging can actually open up the lines of communication between mentor and youth. It sends the message that the adult mentor recognizes that a “generation gap” does indeed exist and that it takes work on their part to overcome it. Help the young person find new opportunities to learn and grow.
This is perhaps the most rewarding part of being an adult mentor – the chance to help a young person realize their full potential! Once you understand a young person’s interests and talents, the natural next step is to help the young person find ways to put them into practice. This does not necessarily mean that the adult mentor and young person will do these activities together. Often a mentor can best serve as a “bridge” that helps the young person to cross into new territory while still providing needed guidance along the way. Serve as a positive role model for the young person.
An adult mentor needs to be onstantly aware of the impact they have upon a young person through their actions and words. Mentors should therefore conduct themselves in such a manner that not only earns a young person’s respect, but also serves as a guidepost for them as they mature into adulthood. Help the young person use his/her talents to serve the community. The last step for the adult mentor is to help the young person become an community. This process involves helping the young person match his/her interests and skills with opportunities for service – becoming a local business owner or a leader in a community organization.
It may involve an apprenticeship or leaving the community for a period of time to earn an education and gain experience. In any case, this is a deliberate process of helping the young person mature into a productive member of society as an adult. Hopefully, they will also choose to mentor another young person along the way and continue the cycle. 11 Leading Practices From our work with communities engaged in youth entrepreneurship we are identifying traits of successful programs. These “leading practices” can help inform other communities about how to develop an effective youth entrepreneur engagement strategy.
The themes include: Quality Entrepreneurship Curriculum Supportive Community Environment Peer Networking Pathways from Education to Opportunity Successful youth entrepreneurship programs are built on a foundation of quality curriculum taught by teachers who engage their students in the discovery and development of their entrepreneurial talent. Teachers have a variety of teaching styles and entrepreneurship is taught in many different subject areas. Curriculum that is already certified to meet national testing standards, content rich and well organized is a high priority for the teachers with whom we work.
Most rural schools do not have the resources to dedicate an entire course and teacher to entrepreneurship so it is often presented as a section of Business Law, Family Consumer Science or Current Events. There is also the challenge of fitting Entrepreneurship into the class schedule along with the other required electives for college-bound students. Again, incorporating entrepreneurship into an existing class has been the solution to these constraints in many schools. The HTC website, www. htcnebraska. org/youtheship, has links to several excellent entrepreneurship curriculums and supporting resource materials.
Before you engage in a conversation with the school administration or faculty about offering a class, we recommend that you review the curriculum descriptions so you are familiar with what is available. Successful communities work in partnership with the school as a “learning laboratory’ where students can practice the knowledge they are gaining in the classroom. This may involve apprenticeships, selling products at school events, interviewing local entrepreneurs or doing a community service project. Another very important element is utilizing local experts to work with young entrepreneurs.
For xample, in Ord, Nebraska, two local bankers worked with students in preparing loan applications for their class projects. A marketing 12 The radio station owner worked with the students in producing advertisements that played on the air. Engaging these types of people makes entrepreneurship “real” for students and it is also a lot of fun for the adults! In addition to these roles, community leaders taking an interest in young entrepreneurs can change attitudes among young people about the community and their future. Many entrepreneurial youth express frustration that the community seems to only focus on star athletes or problem kids”.
They also tell us, “There is nothing for us to do here”. Building relationships with students who want to get involved in the community, supporting their efforts, and celebrating their community and entrepreneurial projects can help them develop into productive citizens and also make your community more attractive to young people as a place to stay or return – a win-win scenario! Just as with entrepreneurial adults, young entrepreneurs need a “place” to hang out with other kids that think the way they do. Fitting in is a big deal when you are a young person.
Young entrepreneurs know they think differently and that often causes them to go off by themselves to experiment with their ideas. However, if you provide a space for them to interact with other young entrepreneurs, they can feed off of each other’s energy and create even better ideas and inventions. This space may be a parent’s garage or basement family room on Tuesday evenings with pizza and soda. Keep it simple! Pathways from Education to Opportunity Ultimately, successful communities help young entrepreneurs transition from the learning process to tangible business and civic opportunities.
This is a deliberate rocess to help a young person clarify their goals, connect with opportunities that are a good fit, and then to stay with them as their enterprise develops. This work may involve doing an inventory of soon-to-retire business owners looking to sell their businesses over the next several years. It may include help in writing a business plan or using an existing revolving loan fund to help a capable young person without equity or cash get started. Each young entrepreneur is unique. Finding out what help they need to move ahead and filling the gaps in resources and services are key. 3 Bringing the Pieces Together – The HomeTown Competitiveness Model Now we want to take the concepts we have laid out and talk about empowering communities with tools and resources that will develop and enhance their youth engagement work, specifically in the context of HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC). This application is founded on a youth engagement system to create and strengthen youth opportunities through: Leadership roles and responsibilities Entrepreneurship education and career development Adult mentoring and support of youth and young adults We need to start with an understanding that it is not Just the call of the city that