I could spend an entire blog or two providing my own suggestions, but I think there is one answer that stands out more than anything else. If America does indeed need to be great again, then the answer to making it great is a renewed focus on our entrepreneurial spirit.
This country was built and has prospered because of its incredible desire to be innovative and make life better for people. (Check out the remarkable timeline of inventions of Washington State for the last 100+ years) Stories and data are unanimous in agreeing that entrepreneurs create jobs, support community growth, encourage social change, invest in local projects, generate new wealth, and create new solutions for old problems.
Who are these makers, doers and dreamers who have taken on such an enormous responsibility to solve problems, go into debt, persevere through rejections, put dating on the back burner and live with the shame of living with their parents into their late 20s or even 30s?
They are the youth of America. Or as Joe Pesci says in the movie My Cousin Vinny they are the “yutes”.
Take a good look at the kids coming out of your schools. They may form the backbone of your community for the next 50 years. If they are hard working and smart, if they have learned a skill, if they have participated in a business plan context, if they have been introduced to a mentor, your community is likely to grow and prosper. But if your schools have high drop out rates and low test scores, and you don’t introduce and teach them the opportunities of being an entrepreneur, then your community will never grow and be great.
We need to introduce young kids to entrepreneurship early with lemonade stands and entrepreneur camps and business plan competitions where they can learn how to start own and operate their own business, start thinking about entrepreneurship and creating their own jobs.
If we really want to make America great again, America needs to support and encourage the “yutes” by providing them with the necessary tools to succeed, that include technical assistance, education and training, access to capital and mentoring and networking.
Successful organizations that practice those strategies and best practices are easy to find. Many of them have been developing innovators one entrepreneur at a time for years. Organizations like Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Young Entrepreneur Council, Startup Grind, Young Presidents Organizations, Youth Entrepreneurs, Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, and yes even the Girl Scouts of America. GSA hosts camp programs designed to familiarize teen girls with the foundations of entrepreneurship. These Girl Scouts don’t just sell great cookies. They will be the leaders and innovators for the next generation. And to think you may have just bought a box of Samoa’s from a future CEO.
Of course, you don’t have to belong to any of these organizations to assist and support future entrepreneurs. You can create your own organization or just create an event by celebrating and participating in the Kauffman Foundation’s annual Global Entrepreneurship Week. From Nov. 12-18, thousands of events and competitions in 170 countries will inspire millions to engage in entrepreneurial activity while connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors.
Want to get involved? I will even give you a head start.
Here are twelve of my favorite and inexpensive events from past global entrepreneurship weeks that introduce entrepreneurship to the “yutes” in your community. But don’t stop in November. Twelve is the number of months in a year so you can organize all of these events for a year to reinforce the possibilities and opportunities of being an entrepreneur. Who knows how many “yutes” will be a CEO and start a business in your community based on some of these events
- Organize an interactive entrepreneurship fair. Invite entrepreneurs, investors, franchisers, suppliers, and innovators, to showcase their work to high schools.
- Have an open house at a local maker space with demonstrations from entrepreneurs that have successfully utilized the tools to create their dreams.
- Organize a day for aspiring youth entrepreneurs to observe and experience the day-to-day operation of multiple business ventures in the community.
- Build a booth where students and entrepreneurs can be videotaped talking about entrepreneurship. At the end of the day, submit the individual short clips to YouTube or Jib Jab. The one with the most views after a week will win a prize.
- Organize an art show featuring student artists who explore the basic themes or characteristics of entrepreneurship: opportunity recognition, creativity, problem-solving, risk-taking, resourcefulness and a passion for ideas.
- Organize a student business summit where entrepreneurs and local elected officials discuss issues relating to regulatory and licensing issues.
- Organize a competition in which students submit a business plan that may be an asset to the community.
- Get students to explore and research the history of prominent local business people and businesses. Each student selects one of these entrepreneurs to present to their class in a creative and innovative format.
- Organize an afternoon workshop teaching students how to improve existing products and turn them into money-making opportunities.
- Prior to school, sponsor a breakfast with the chamber for students and listen and question local entrepreneurs discuss their business.
- Take a tour through a co-working space and discuss how startups can afford and work in such an environment through mentoring and networking
- Select local entrepreneurs to give five-minute Ignite presentations at job fairs or career day using just 20 slides to communicate multiple aspects of entrepreneurship.
Global Entrepreneurship Week is not one single event — it is tens of thousands of events, activities and competitions that every community should participate in if we want to make America great again. America did not become great again with slogans. Greatness rests on the shoulders of our country’s entrepreneurs. Thanks to their ideas, energy, passion and perseverance, they are re-energizing local economies, providing new job opportunities and building a new sense of community in towns throughout the U.S.
Global Entrepreneurship Week is a great place to start but it does not have to end there. The goal of every great community should be to create a new generation of entrepreneurs from today’s youth. And selfishly, it will give me a good reason to buy more Girl Scout cookies and meet the CEO’s of the future. That way I can say I knew her when she first began her entrepreneurial career.