Teaching Youngsters to Be Entrepreneurs

By Veigle, Anne | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

Teaching Youngsters to Be Entrepreneurs


Veigle, Anne, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


My son has opened a hardware store in my husband's metalworking shop. He charges - a lot - for every screw, nail and tool within his reach. The items are neatly labeled and carefully inventoried. All sales are final and dutifully rung up on an electronic cash register.

Although his customers are family members, he is learning some real lessons about running a business. Mainly he has discovered the joys of a captive market and keeping his own hours.

As Steve Mariotti sees it, these are the first steps toward a successful career as an entrepreneur. Mr. Mariotti is a New York businessman who has founded a nonprofit group to teach children how to start their own businesses. Though he specializes in coaching children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, his advice applies to any family that wants to give its children a good financial education.

"No matter who your employer is, managing your money wisely is not unlike being in business for yourself," Mr. Mariotti says in the introduction to his recent book, "The Young Entrepreneur's Guide to Starting and Running a Business."

Mr. Mariotti got started on the youth-entrepreneurship track in the mid-1980s when he taught at a high school in one of New York City's roughest districts. Hired to teach a basic math course, Mr. Mariotti found himself barely able to speak in the din that surrounded him.

Students shouted and lobbed spitballs at the blackboard. Two girls practiced dance steps in the back of the classroom. One day, his charges locked him out of the classroom. Another day, a student set fire to another pupil's coat. None of his students was interested in learning from the textbooks Mr. Mariotti was using.

"One day, I was desperate. I got hit in the back of the head with a spitball," he says. "I then decided to wing it - I gave a mock sales pitch, offering to sell my watch for $6." The class quieted down. He used the lesson to explain the concept of profit and loss and soon had a rapt audience. "Suddenly, I had their attention," he recalls.

Many of his students were "street smart." They might not be able to read past a third-grade level, but they had an innate understanding of the laws of supply and demand. They knew how to barter and negotiate. Building on those skills, Mr. Mariotti designed a curriculum that taught the basics of running a business.

A summation of his lesson plans is included in his book along with stories about the experiences of successful entrepreneurs such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart and Anita Roddick of the Body Shop.

The book is written on a level that a middle school or high school student can understand. There are chapters devoted to understanding economics, determining market share, identifying business opportunities and writing a business plan. These lessons are interwoven with stories of students who started with a simple idea and became successful in business.

In 1987, Mr. …

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