A New York-based nonprofit, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE, also runs in-school and summer programs for students in sixth through 12th grades. One of the offerings — called “BizCamp: Business Ideation and Crafting the Pitch” — includes classes on “Opportunity Recognition” and “Delivering Value to Customers,” and culminates in a pitch competition that is structured like an episode of the TV show “Shark Tank.” (Winners are eligible to compete in a National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, also sponsored by NFTE.)
The goal of the organization — founded almost three decades ago with support from billionaire philanthropists, multinational banks and corporate consultants — has been, since the beginning, to “activate the entrepreneurial mind-set and build start-up skills in youth,” said Sophia Rodriguez, the director of research and analytics at NFTE. (“We actually pronounce it ‘nifty,’” she clarified.)
And because it is not enough to activate the entrepreneurial mind-set — one must measure it, as well — all NFTE students are assessed, by the end of their programs, on “noncognitive skills” and on something called the Entrepreneurial Mind-set Index. That exam, which was written in collaboration with Ernst & Young, one of the world’s largest accounting firms, and the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, is meant to promote “a very talented pipeline of young people that employers desperately need and are increasingly not finding,” Ms. Rodriguez said.
“We look at NFTE youth as future model employees,” Ms. Rodriguez said. They currently reach about 25,000 students in schools and about 3,000 kids at camps in the U.S. “We’re talking about high school students, but we definitely see interest from our corporate partners on wanting to kind of leverage the learning that our young people are developing.”
Juan Casimiro, the founder and chief executive of Biznovator and a former Bronx public-school teacher, believes children are never too young to start learning about business. “For more than 31 years, I’ve been running entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership camps — typically during the summers,” Mr. Casimiro said. “When I got involved, it was harder to convince parents, funding sources, organizations, that kids can learn business very early. They couldn’t believe that a kid, at 10, can pick up these business principles and literally start their own little micro business.”