By Damian Hanley
As adults, we all know what it’s like to be “realistic” about our dreams. Maybe, as children, we wanted to be firemen or nurses or trapeze artists, but alas, the labor market and our formative years taught us to be practical and think about the likelihood of our knees/back holding up and that we’d probably need health insurance, etc. But as children, we dreamt wildly. We shot for the stars because we didn’t know the emotional tax of failing at something. We tried stuff. We lived life, and loved it. Our ideas were exciting and the stakes were low.
Most of you reading this never had a class in entrepreneurship as children – maybe in college, but it’s likely that you grew up not knowing a single person that identified as an entrepreneur. You knew a few small business owners for sure, and corporate types that worked for mega multinationals. But if you had to conjure an image of one, maybe you’d have come up with The Donald, or a similar, self-styled, arrogant high-roller that you didn’t necessarily look up to. In fact, it was only this year that a university (Drexel) founded a school dedicated to entrepreneurship.
True entrepreneurship makes the world a better place. It’s an act of creation, and its become a body of knowledge worth teaching to young people. So when the opportunity presented itself this past year, Father Bob jumped at the chance to do just that in the context of our favorite Catholic Charity. In years past, AFCAAM’s Digital U. program introduced high schoolers to the world of media production. As part of this year’s program, students worked with St. John XXIII Parishioner and AFCAAM Vice-Chairman, John Gamba, to learn the principles of entrepreneurship and to explore ideas for starting a new business. As part of the training, students posted their creative business ideas on a website called MakeYourJob.org.
“We wanted to expand the impact of the AFCAAM Summer Program from learning about technology to applying technology to start a new business,” says John Gamba. “All of these kids have entrepreneurial mindsets. They simply need direction, support and creative outlets to express themselves.”
MakeYourJob (MakeYourJob.org) is a project-based, social learning experience that teaches the principles of entrepreneurship and challenges student entrepreneurs to dream up a new businesses. Middle and High School Students are presented with 16 mini-challenges from identifying a Founder, to crafting a sales and promotions strategy to determining the start-up costs to launch their business. Students create digital assets that are posted on a Virtual Business Canvas for judging by volunteer entrepreneurs affiliated with the Network for Teaching Entreprneurship (NFTE).
“We had a guest speaker come in and ask us if we wanted to win $2500. We were like, YES!” shares Nardos Bekele, this year’s 2nd place winner. “I told him my idea, and he got excited. He thought it was great. I took it really seriously and submitted my idea the same day. I ended up winning $1000 – not bad for second place!”
Nardos came to the United States from Ethiopia in the 6th grade. A native Amharic speaker, she was frightened by the newness of the people and social idiosyncrasies of our culture. “I used to have to stay after school to get extra help writing essays. But math was always my favorite subject, and so stuck me in all these advanced classes.” Remarkably decisive about her future, the 15 year old already knows her double major in college – criminal justice and medicine. These majors will launch her into the 3 concurrent careers she’s chosen – FBI agent working in a Behavioral Analysis Unit, MD and forensic anthropologist. Needless to say, this is someone that’s engaged in life.
MakeYourJob was sponsored by a local education company, MassiveU.com and NFTE which is headquartered in New York City. The program was supported by a grant from Citigroup Foundation. More than 6,000 students from 15 countries registered and competed at MakeYourJob.org over the past 6 months. The competition was fierce, and some of the ideas that came through were legitimately viable for marketing.
Nardos’ idea came from another guest speaker’s presentation on Google Glass. Google Glass is a type of wearable technology with an optical head-mounted display. It was developed by Google as a mass-market computer that displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format. Sales were lagging so much that Google has actually taken it off the market, but Nardos – in her infinite wisdom – sort of identified the problem, and her idea could have been the solution.
“First, there wasn’t a lot of real life function to them. As in, there weren’t any apps that would make the glasses useful in real life,” she recalls thinking. “And secondly, they were weird looking. So I thought, why not make them look like normal, fashionable glasses. So that was the gist of the idea. My company would re-design the look of the glasses, and then provide a marketplace for better apps. I would take all the functions of my phone, and put them into the glasses. We thought about developing new apps that could multitask for you too. Like, if you were really busy, the app could answer emails and read books for you.”
Blown away by the creativity of the students that participated, Gamba wonders “how many other Nardos Bekeles are out there – students who want to create, invent and apply what they learn to real-life opportunities to build a business and make money?” That’s a good question – one that can only be answered if organizations like our Parish and Catholic Charities continue to support education entrepreneurs like NFTE and AFCAAM.
As much as some want to connect Big Business with greed and sundry other sins, entrepreneurship at its core is a very Biblical concept. Its foundation is faith and vision – and a genuine desire to make other people’s lives better. She needs to take actions that involve risk, with the faith that, if done honestly, her “talents can be multiplied”. Sound familiar? Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. -Hebrews 11:1. And though none of us has made a sacrifice like Christ made for us, humans are capable of sacrifice, and entrepreneurship is one such example of self-denial, undertaken for the benefit of others. True entrepreneurship is not a get-rich-quick scheme. A successful entrepreneur serves others, often at great risk, difficulty, and cost. Profits are a sign that the entrepreneur has successfully served others, but profit only comes at the end – sometimes never. Along the way she risks financial safety for herself and family, retirement, savings, and possibly the same of friends and family.
When AFCAAM teaches entrepreneurship, it’s teaching kids how to have faith in themselves – something a lot of kids these days need. “I can’t say enough about our Parish’s generosity,” John shares. “They stepped up in a huge way and made a world of difference for students who face challenging circumstances. For 3 weeks, these students got a taste of Silicon Valley thinking, and really push their limits about their possibilities for the future. The sky’s the limit for them.”