This past summer, my colleague and I decided to give back to our community by serving as facilitators for the “Money Matters” program led by the Boys & Girls Club in our region. The goal of the Money Matters program is to promote financial responsibility and independence among club members ages 13 to 18.
We assumed it would be easy to teach teens how to create a budget, save and invest, and start a small business. However, we discovered they weren’t as interested as two Gen-X management professors in the topic, and we quickly decided we needed to figure out ways to make entrepreneurship fun.
We tried to put ourselves in their shoes by reminiscing on our preferences and expectations of our teachers during our teenage years. After much trial and error over the course of the summer, we identified five ways to successfully boost teenagers’ excitement about entrepreneurship.
It can be a bit of a challenge to connect with Millennials, so we worked to find ways to help us to relate to them and them to relate to us. We found that sharing personal stories helped them see similarities between their experiences and ours, and as a result they better connected with us.
We made an extra effort to keep abreast with pop culture and the individuals who they admire, and find a way to integrate these figures in our content. For instance, some of the Boys & Girls Club members look up to entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Beyonce Knowles, and were especially enthusiastic participants when learning about the entrepreneurial profiles of their role models.
For many teens, entrepreneurship is seen as a lofty dream that’s unattainable. Others understand that it can be realized, but they simply do not know how to make their dreams come to fruition.
Although sharing anecdotes about successful individuals, especially those who came from humble beginnings, engaged them, we also learned that wasn’t enough. Our students needed us to provide information about specific steps they could take to establish their ventures, such as how to acquire funding, both conventionally and through bootstrapping.
When we first started teaching the class, we wore our professor hats and we were a bit too formal, forgetting the cardinal rule of “know thy audience.” We had overlooked the fact that we were serving as instructors to a group of energetic teenagers who were happy to be out of school and whose minds were on enjoying the summer.
We recognized their short attention spans, and began to develop activities that were interesting and experiential to capture their interest. We utilized brainstorming activities and other engaging exercises as tools to assist them with idea generation, and to allow them to start considering how these ideas could be made reality. Upon creating a more open, lively learning environment, their creativity was allowed to flourish, and their ideas were clever and varied, ranging from a social networking site to a Chinese-Soul Food fusion restaurant.
We noticed that many of the students had interests that they could capitalize on to generate extra revenue. It never occurred to them that their leisurely pursuits, like webpage design, hair-braiding, tutoring, and event planning could actually be turned into successful business ventures.
We made them aware of success stories from their contemporaries, like 18-year old Leanna Archer, who started a lucrative hair care business when she was 11-years old. We then explored ways they could turn their hobbies into income.
We also realized that our students had a heightened level of excitement about entrepreneurship when we created a sense of competition among them. Therefore, we offered attractive, yet reasonable rewards to those who applied the knowledge gained from our lectures and activities and thus, demonstrated learning. We awarded prizes to students based on their proposals, including revenue models, marketing strategies and financial plans.
Our volunteer work this summer was challenging, but truly fulfilling as we received the opportunity to help nurture the minds of our future leaders and entrepreneurs. Upon observing the students and paying attention to their attitudes, questions, and conversations, we began utilizing these five ideas to better reach them. As a result, we were better able to strategize and develop a plan to pique their interest and to motivate them to learn about entrepreneurship.
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