Junior achievement helps build entrepreneurs

Op-ed: Want an entrepreneur in the family? Teach them about business young.

"You don't own me."

The 1960s anthem plays in the background of the ad as a 20-something chef-in-training speeds away from her tyrannical boss in her new Toyota. Thirty seconds later, she's running her own food truck.

Toyota has done its homework: It has seen the research that shows millennials — those born between 1980 and 1995 — feel little loyalty to employers, consider themselves entrepreneurs and dream of owning their own business.

The dream may be even stronger for those in the next wave, Generation Z. One study reported in Entrepreneur magazine found that 72 percent of high school students want to start a business someday. A survey of 500 teens conducted by Junior Achievement (JA) and ORC International put the number as high as 87 percent.

That's good news because the nation relies on new-business formation to add jobs and grow the economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently hailed the city of Baltimore for its success at attracting tech start-ups and millennial residents. After decades of manufacturing, it said, entrepreneurs are "leading Charm City's comeback." And start-ups can also provide an alternative path for at-risk youth or those in areas with high levels of unemployment.

The bad news is that the dream of millennial entrepreneurship is largely a dream deferred. The Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic have both reported that business ownership among all ages was decimated in the 2007 recession and among those under 30, it remains at a 25-year low.

But a recent study reported in Fortune of thousands of successful entrepreneurs, from Baby Boomers to millennials, offers another interesting insight: "Millenipreneurs" started their businesses younger, employed more staff and raked in higher profits sooner than their counterparts in prior generations.

Now is the time to capitalize on this trend. At JA, we believe that youth need to be exposed to business concepts early and often, from kindergarten through grade 12, to understand that ownership is a viable opportunity. We offer online tools and in-classroom programs as well as our flagship JA Company Program, an immersive, hands-on experience that gives high school students the opportunity to start and run their own businesses.

Students raise real money to capitalize the business, select what product or service to sell, and come up with a "Plan B" in case their first plan doesn't pan out. They must work in a team, yet carry out responsibilities within their assigned department. Most importantly, they are guided by JA's real-world mentors, who include local entrepreneurs and business professionals.

Four after-school programs are running this year in Baltimore and Howard counties, with several others offered in the classroom. In Baltimore County, accounting firm SC&H is mentoring students from Hereford High, while in Howard County, the Rising Women program brings together female high school students from throughout the county with businesswomen who help them test and develop their entrepreneurial spirit.

Baltimore City is a focus for expansion of the program to create a pipeline for business growth. Just this month, students participated in a job shadow experience at The Foundery maker space to expose them to trades that could lead to skilled jobs, new innovations, and business start-ups.

Even if participants never do open their own businesses, they learn important skills that will serve them well in the workplace, such as critical thinking, collaboration, discipline, drive for results, accountability for their own actions and strategies to motivate and manage other people.

As desirable as those skills are in their own right, they can also benefit employers in another way.

Consider one more study, the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, which included 7,700 young people. All were employed full-time, in the U.S. and elsewhere. When they were asked to name the most important values for a company's long-term success, only 7 percent chose product quality, and customer service came in third, at 19 percent. The No. 1 answer? Employee satisfaction, at 27 percent.

Which brings us back to that Toyota ad, and the perception that millennials would rather switch than stay.

JA alumni know that a successful business isn't built in 30 seconds. They've had a hands-on look at the line between success and failure, and the difficult decisions needed to stay on the right side of that line. All of that should give them a better understanding of business goals and the ways they can use their drive and initiative to rise within an organization — even as they prepare to compete with it or, perhaps, own it themselves.

Kim Fabian is senior vice president of Junior Achievement of Central Maryland; her email is kfabian@jamaryland.org.

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