mauryWatching the current NCAA basketball tournament reminded me of when I was young, and like so many young people, imagined the excitement of my team making it to the final playoffs.  I saw myself making that winning jump shot in the last second (I perfected making the “crowd go wild” sound), driving in for a layup with time running out (I could hear people yelling my nickname, Mo Fo Mo Fo!!) or stealing the ball and securing the victory for my team (cheerleaders mobbed me and carried me off the court).  And then, having earned such notoriety for helping win the game, I could visualize being overwhelmed by scouts from professional teams offering me fame and fortune. It at least seemed like a possibility. It was only later in life that I discovered that college players who reach the pros are as rare as lottery winners. Of all the thousands of great young basketball players only one in 75 actually get drafted by the pros. That is just over one percent!

Entrepreneurs are actually very similar to professional athletes. The competition for success is intense on the court and in the economy.  Both have extraordinary skills learned over many years of often grueling practice and training and laser-focused attention. Both must research the competition and choose a strategy to outplay them and, if not successful, work tirelessly to nimbly implement another strategy. Both love what they do on a personal level but ultimately must work well as a team member, do their best to satisfy an audience or customer and finally, somehow achieve some amount of fortune and satisfaction in their careers. There is, of course, a big difference between the two: Over the long course of life, entrepreneurs have a better chance of succeeding at what they do.  First time entrepreneurs succeed 18% of the time. Veteran entrepreneurs are successful 30% of the time. The average professional basketball career is less than five years. An entrepreneur’s career can last a lifetime.

Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things but there are some mindsets that drive behavior, enabling success better than others. Like athletes, entrepreneurs must take ownership of their time and problem solving skills and this may indeed be an acquired skill. Economic development professionals can play an important role in encouraging self-direction and empowerment among young people that can result in their most disciplined critical thinking and problem solving.  Problems are opportunities but tools and skills are required and the acquisition of those skills is a complex process. And, of course, teamwork and outstanding communication is required on the “court” where the game really begins in earnest: the marketplace.

We can help schools implement concepts that encourage a problem-based learning process that can tune up and discipline the muscles and minds of potential entrepreneurs. Here are some ideas to suggest for different high school-level class projects that could sustain lifelong self-learning situations and turn them into entrepreneurs.

  • English and language arts: Introduce real world concerns and problems and write up articulate potential solutions.
  • History: Interview local entrepreneurs and learn their story behind their idea/product/service and why they decided to own their own business.
  • Math: Understand interest rates on one’s own credit card bills, balance checkbooks, get their credit reports and discuss their scores.
  • Social Studies: Discuss case studies with regulatory constraints and laws affecting businesses and why they are important. Identify unnecessary regulations.
  • Science: Encourage scientific enthusiasm and have students search for jobs requiring STEM skills, especially ones that require only certifications after high school.
  • Arts: Develop ideation and “concrete experience” learning exercises that encourage creativity and problem solving.
  • Foreign Language: Teach foreign culture with language skills. Coordinate study abroad programs that will connect students to a future new customer base.
  • Economics: Develop a mock exercise that shows how dollars circulate and how local stores keep money in the economy more than big box stores.
  • Business: Create a “Business Model Canvas” which is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool that allows students to describe, design, challenge, invent and pivot a business idea.

This is not a suggestion for economic development professionals to teach classes. It is, however, a suggestion that we can help facilitate learning in schools that contributes to improved real life skills that students will use in their careers and all of their lives. Our role is to help sustain long lasting healthy communities at every level.  And, yes, we can still always help kids practice their free throws and foster all those dreams.