Bright Idea: Business Models

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Young volunteers

Many young people have had few opportunities to take charge of their lives. Youth-serving organizations have found that gaining the skills needed to run a small business can help young people feel in charge. Plus, knowing how to manage money, understand supply and demand, market products and work in a team will come in handy for youth far beyond an entrepreneurship class—in school, in their personal lives and in their future careers.

Groups that teach business and entrepreneurship to youth use role models as a key component of their programs.  "Young people want real life and relevancy—mentors are key!" says Julie Silard Kantor, who directs the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship's Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy Group.

By watching successful businesspeople in action, young people see adults doing exactly what they want to do someday. Youth also get hands-on experience and insight into the ups and downs and dos and don'ts of entrepreneurship.  And mentors often encourage them to give back once they have achieved success in their own businesses.

Kantor suggested some steps youth-serving organizations can take to create successful mentoring relationships between youth and local entrepreneurs:

Network. In business, relationships are all-important, so it makes sense to find mentors by opening up your address book and reaching out to local civic groups. "You can find great mentors through word of mouth, Facebook, Rotary Clubs and more," Kantor says.

Team up with mentoring organizations. Don't reinvent the wheel, Kantor says. Your local mentoring organization will know the ins and outs of working with mentors. For instance, she says, mentors and mentees need to meet in a group environment and in public places due to liability issues. In addition, mentors should have background checks before being allowed to work with young people. Another source of information on running a mentoring program is MENTOR, the National Mentoring Partnership.

Provide alternatives for time-strapped businesspeople. "Mentoring is a big responsibility" and it requires a long-term commitment, Kantor says. Ask people who want to help but are short on time to be guest speakers or one-time business coaches, she says.

Create a team environment. In a pilot program run by Kantor's organizations, half a dozen entrepreneurs and business executives mentor a class of 25 to 30 youth.

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