Education stressed, H.O.P.E. offered to next generation of entrepreneurs


Move over, Ross Perot -- some Baltimore fifth-graders are now ready to start the climb from the lemonade stand to the board room.

Yesterday, 145 city and county students attended the area's first seminar by Project H.O.P.E., a Wichita, Kan.,-based program that uses the concept of "entrepreneurship" to reinforce the importance of education.

The concept is new, says Project H.O.P.E.'s founder, Fran Jabara, not only in grade schools, but in the country's business schools.

"Up until 15 years ago, we never talked about entrepreneurship. We always taught students to go work for a big company and try to be president of that company," said Mr. Jabara, former dean of the business school at Wichita State University and founder of its Center for Entrepreneurship. "This is a new dimension and we think introducing it at this early age is critical."

No one preached that "greed is good," but the presenters played to the students' avid interest in money. "We're not trying to orient it toward money," Mr. Jabara said. "We're trying to orient it toward success, but money often follows success."

But Hattie N. Washington, an assistant superintendent with city schools, said young people are fascinated with earning -- and buying -- power.

"They talk about money, they all understand that," Ms. Washington said. "Money is power. Knowledge is power. They see that, and think: 'If I read and study and get a degree, then possibly I can get more money.' They realize it's all about options."

The students listened to Lynn Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver who has learned to market his public relations degree since retiring from professional football.

And they learned that a new business means taking risks. Jean A. Green-Dorsey, founder and vice president of PolySoft Systems Corp., a local computer software company, told them she had given up a $50,000 salary to gain autonomy.

"Do I miss it?" she asked of her old paycheck. "Sometimes. But I know we'll be successful eventually."

Immersed in business jargon, the students saw snack time become "networking and energy break," in which they were encouraged to sign each other's T-shirts over cookies and lemonade.

Divided into small groups, the students also were asked to plan summer businesses, with $100 start-up costs. Lemonade stands were common, along with lawn care services and dog walking. But one group said it would start a radio station -- relying on corporate sponsors and rich donors such as Mr. Swann.

Douglas Bolton, a 10-year-old from Winfield Elementary School in Randallstown, wanted to start a baby-sitting service. He had a catchy name for it: "Dougie's House of Rug Rats." He figured he could do it with two people, paying each $5 an hour.

Rena Baldwin was less generous. She was going to sell ice cream by a swimming pool -- $1 for the ice cream, 50 cents a day for her four workers.

Project H.O.P.E. is designed exclusively for minority students. While any student could benefit from the seminar, its message is especially important to those who may face discrimination in the job market, Mr. Jabara said. If you start your own company, you don't have to worry about the glass ceiling, he pointed out.

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