That sidewalk lemonade stand your child started may have been the first sign of an emerging entrepreneur. Once he or she hits middle school or high school, take those budding business skills to the next level, with a summer camp that teaches kids the fundamentals of building a company from scratch — and, along the way, how to fend for themselves financially.
“Entrepreneurial skills are going to be the competitive advantage for 21st-century kids,” said Joline Godfrey, CEO of Independent Means, Inc., which teaches financial skills to children, including at its Camp Start-Up, now in its 21st year.
Though many dream of minting the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, entrepreneur camps aren’t just about making future tech billionaires; they provide campers with the tools necessary to succeed in any business today.
“You don’t take a job today — you make a job,” said Godfrey. “That is the great disruption going on in the world.”
Most camps concentrate on business fundamentals: How to create an elevator pitch, write business and marketing plans, estimate sales and profitability, and pitch concepts to investors. But as kids learn financial fluency, they also gain an understanding of how money and business work in the real world, Godfrey said.
- For 12 days in July, Camp Start-Up (Godfrey’s residential camp at Menlo College, a private business school in Menlo Park, Calif.) immerses teens in the essentials of entrepreneurship. The camp has spawned several business ideas, from solar- and kinetic-powered smartphone cases to homeopathic medicine marketed through an app that allows consumers to self-diagnose.
- At Columbia University’s summer programs for high school students, the junior-senior division offers entrepreneur and innovation camps that focus on creating new products or business or social ventures that can help change the world.
Cost: $4,870 to $8,317
- TechGirlz, a day camp at Drexel University in Philadelphia, was developed for adolescent girls. The five-day camp aims to narrow the gender gap in the tech field by broadening girls’ interest in technology and the role it plays in many current and future business opportunities. "By the end of the week, these kids are pitching a professional business to a pool of funders, a panel,” said Karen Stellabotte, program director for the camp.
“We call it the 'Dolphin Pool' because it’s like ‘Shark Tank.’ Each member tells why he or she would fund that business.” One of the first TechGirlz campers created KanineKookies by Kayla, an online dog biscuit business that its founder hopes will help her rescue horses for use in therapeutic riding.
- Stanford and Yale universities both offer social entrepreneurship programs called "SummerFuel" that help give high school students the “skills necessary to build effective and efficient business-based solutions to key social issues.”
But Can You Build an Entrepreneur?
“You can teach skills. You can’t teach values — those come from home, experience, time and life,” said Godfrey. “And you can’t teach passion. That’s a spark we try to help students be open to.”
Parents can get kids started as early as the pre-teen years, but more sophisticated programs are geared to 14- to 18-year-olds. That’s a great time, Godfrey says, because “kids are well on their journey to independence. They are all beginning to ask questions like 'Who am I? What is my identity? What am I going to do in college?' To see themselves as an entrepreneur is a way for them to answer those questions.”Parents are encouraged to keep their eyes open for signs of their child’s creative and independent nature — two of several key entrepreneurial traits, according to Stellabotte.
Moreover, the camps show teens that their interests and curiosities are taken seriously, which may stoke their passion for business — either to create profit or, just as important, “to realize some purpose in their lives,” Godfrey said.
“You may not directly teach your children how to be entrepreneurs,” said Godfrey, “but the camps can show them how to make money and make a difference.”
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