Startups – so easy a 12-year-old can do it

By Guest Contributor
February 1, 2011

– Steve Blank is a teacher, writer, and serial entrepreneur. He teaches at Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Business School and at Columbia. He is the author of “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” and “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”. This article originally appeared on www.steveblank.com. The views expressed are his own. –

Maybe because it’s a company town and everyone in Silicon Valley has a family connection to entrepreneurship. Or maybe I just encountered the most entrepreneurial 12-year-olds ever assembled under one roof. Or maybe we’re now teaching entrepreneurial thinking in middle schools. Either way, I had an astounding evening as one of the judges at the Girls Middle School 7th grade Entrepreneurial night.

In this school every seventh-grade girl becomes part of a team of four or five who create and run their own business. The students write business plans, request startup capital from investors, receive funding for their companies, make product samples, manufacture inventory, and sell their products to real-world customers. This class is experiential learning at its best.

It was amazing to read their plans talking about income, revenue, cost of goods, fixed and variable costs, profit and liquidity. (I don’t think I understood cost of goods until I was 30.) As they built their business, having to work with a team meant the girls learned firsthand the importance of creativity, teamwork, communication, consensus building, personal responsibility, and compromise. (Next time I have to adjudicate between founders in a real startup, I can now say: “I’ve seen 12-year-olds get along better than you.”)

One highlight of the girls Entrepreneurial Program is the annual “Entrepreneurial Night” that showcases the newly created businesses for both the school and the wider Silicon Valley community. All of the teams had booths where they sold their products as if in a trade show. Then after a break, each of the 12 teams got up in front of the audience of several hundred (and the judges) and presented a Powerpoint summary of their business and progress to date. (I couldn’t write or deliver a pitch that good until my third startup.)

Wow. Watching these girls gave me even more confidence about predictions of the future of entrepreneurship (see my post “When It’s Darkest, Men See the Stars“).

Women as entrepreneurs

Teaching entrepreneurship in middle school is an amazing achievement. But teaching it to young women is even better. Not all these girls will choose to be career professionals in a corporate world. But learning entrepreneurial thinking early can help regardless of your career choice, be it teacher, mother, doctor, lawyer or startup founder. They will forever know that starting a company is not something that only boys do, but was something they mastered in middle school.

The Girls Middle School is not alone in teaching young students entrepreneurship. Organizations like Bizworld and The National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship are also spreading the word. If you have any influence on the curriculum of your child’s school, adding an entrepreneurship class will be good for them, good for your community and great for our country.

Lessons Learned:

  • Middle school is a great time to introduce entrepreneurship into a curriculum
  • Students that age can master the basics of a small business
  • It’s best taught as a full immersion, “get out of the building, make it, sell it and do it” experience
  • The lessons will last a lifetime
  • Extra credit if you teach it in a girls-only school
One comment

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I think the class is a great idea, but I remember making a soap box derby car as a Cub Scout and bringing to a competition where some of my competition looked and performed as though they were made by someone’s father who worked as a machinist in the defense industry.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive