Startups—So Easy A 12-Year-Old Can Do It

1/31/11Follow @sgblank

Out of the mouths babes. 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.

12 Year Olds Writing Business Plans
In this school every seventh-grade girl becomes part of a team of four or five that create and run their own business. The students write business plans, request start-up 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. (Heck, 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 a booth where they sold their products as if in a trade show. Then after a break, each of the 12 teams of 7th graders got up in front of audience of several hundred (and the judges) and presented their Powerpoint summaries 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 in the 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 children’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

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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