Today I watched a group of 9th grade students at Oakland Tech present their preliminary business plans to a panel of judges and was impressed by how much I can learn from those who are so much younger than I am.
The showcase was part of the entrepreneur program created by BUILD whose mission statement reads:
Our mission is to provide real-world entrepreneurial experience that empowers youth from under-resourced communities to excel in education, lead in their communities, and succeed professionally.
It’s a great program that boasts a 70% graduation rate through the 4 year after school program and 100% of BUILD graduates go on to college.
That’s even more impressive considering that the program deliberately picks the kids that most schools write off as being hopeless. Over the course of the program, the students prove beyond a doubt that they can succeed in life beyond what any statistical model would predict for them.
That’s a skill I want to learn. The skill to exceed expectations.I want to learn to exceed expectations. Click To Tweet
Through the first two years of the program, students (keep in mind these are 14-15 year olds) do market research, create a financial model, write a business plan, and actually execute that business plan with up to $1000 of funding. They have to get the funding by pitching their ideas to VCs at the business plan competition.
In short, the students become entrepreneurs and build a business.
I’ve been mentoring with BUILD since October and it has been a fantastic challenge so far. I can’t say I’m very good at it, but I hope to be. I have to stand in awe of anyone who starts a business and to watch someone twenty years younger than me do it is extremely humbling.
It’s few business people that can get in front of a crowd of 200 people and acquit themselves with the poise that some of the students did. I certainly could not do it at that age.
The team I work with is called Next Level Creations and they are selling customized lanyards to hold keys, ID cards, cell phones etc. Within the one week since they started practicing their pitch, they have improved a hundred fold. Although the mentors (Tom, Kim and I) might try to help, and although their teacher (Sam) is phenomenal, I don’t think any of us can take credit for that improvement.
It’s the students themselves taking charge of their own lives and deciding to succeed.
Their ability to continually learn with enthusiasm represents a daily victory that most of us cannot claim to match. Most days, my greatest success is getting my tie tied in under half an hour. (Admission: It took me 40 minutes to tie a bow tie last Friday.) So their success is a great inspiration to me professionally. I had intended to write a blog post about outsourcing and post it yesterday, but I’m glad that plan of action failed so I could write this simple message tonight:
I’d like to thank my students (Brenton, Ruby, Cleon, Jessica, Jazz, and Alex) for being mentors to me and giving me inspiration. I hope I’m not too old to learn to be as great of an entrepreneur as they will become.
So…what should I post next? Tweet to tell me what to write:Show me how to test product market fit!
orHow can I do lean startup in my friggin' huge company?