We get a lot of our students approach us for advice on how to establish a startup. Empowerly’s own startup success story with its humble beginnings in a college dorm room can provide inspiration and many seek our expertise to see their own ideas launched into the market or community.
I’m always impressed that so many of our young students have the imagination and drive to build a company from scratch. I certainly didn’t have the ambition at such a young age – my experience amounted to selling pizzas and chocolates for school fundraisers and I was never the kid who sold the most! But for many high school students the entrepreneurial mindset is almost like second nature for them. 69 percent of teens say they have a business idea, but need help to start the process.
But let’s step back a bit and first ask if pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors in high school is really worth the effort. If success rates are low, what benefit is there? And if high school students are not afraid of failure where can they get help with their startup aspirations? Are high school entrepreneurship programs really that useful? These are all sensible questions to ask before launching into a new business venture.
Entrepreneurship teaches life skills.
There is plenty of evidence that highlights the benefits of entrepreneurship. It can teach a student a myriad of life skills that other high school courses don’t teach. According to Marlborough School in Los Angeles, it can teach students:
- How to collaborate and work with a team
- How to speak in public and prepare an effective presentation
- How to collect and analyze data
- How to use social media as an advocacy tool
- How to solve real, complex problems that don’t have a definitive answer
- How to use curiosity and creativity to find an innovative approach to difficult problems
High school entrepreneurship programs can also help students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, create opportunities, foster social justice, instill confidence and stimulate the economy – all highly pertinent aspirations during this time of economic uncertainty and political unrest.
Many like the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman advocates for having students graduate high school “innovation ready”, and governments are taking notice. Junior Achievement USA found a substantial increase in entrepreneurial education efforts at both the state level and district level with 49 states or 98% of states now offering entrepreneurship courses in grades K-12.
The best six high school entrepreneurship programs to help you get started:
You might think you are really onto a great idea for a startup but don’t feel equipped to launch it. While there are plenty of courses at top business schools like NYU Stern and UPenn Wharton that can teach you entrepreneurial skills, without the necessary mentorship and guidance, young ambition may just remain a distant dream. Without the experience and funding, how can you materialize your idea into a viable business?
There are a handful of programs that not only teach you the necessary skills to be an entrepreneur, but also offer you the space and support to research and test your ideas, provide you with the mentors to guide you through the process and invest funding so you can launch your business. Below are some of the best high school entrepreneurship programs which can help students take their idea and transform it into a growing business.
Located on the campus of MIT, LaunchX is one of the most widely known and reputable programs out there. It brings together top aspiring high school entrepreneurs from around the world each summer, and supports them through the process of launching a startup. Promising young entrepreneurs learn from industry experts, and are provided the course materials and the support needed to build real products and solve business challenges in viable ways.
LaunchX helps its student start real companies following the four steps of the program:
- Explore – Identify, research, and test business opportunities
- Test – Formalize the idea through market research
- Iterate – Design and test your solution
- Launch – Build business logistics and start selling
Endevvr is a virtual program that helps high school students start real companies. The program began at the University of Pennsylvania, with founders and mentor networks from institutions like Harvard Business School.The program is described as a rigorous corporate experience and training using a highly structured, analytical, hypothesis-based way to truly teach entrepreneurship. Its program directions have created a teaching method that taught lessons not by sitting in a classroom, but by actually having our participants build real companies. The program promises that each team of participants will have a real working product within two weeks.
At just the age of 17, Eddy Zhong created Leangap when he saw the need for a formal entrepreneurship training program directed towards high school students. Leangap promises to help participants develop their ideas from concept to launch, with real customers and users over one summer. The program consists of three phases:
Phase 1 – Validation
During the first week, student entrepreneurs will pitch ideas, form teams, validate business models, and create the first proof of concept of their products or services.
Phase 2 – Creation
Teams will then create a minimum viable product with the guidance of our mentors and network.
Phase 3 – Traction
The ability to generate traction is what separates real startups from “projects”. With the support of our mentors, students will get sales as soon as humanly possible.
Targeted at the aspiring social impact female entrepreneur, HERlead participants attend a Leadership Forum which covers communications and leadership training over 4 days in New York City. High school students meet with influential ANN brands and ascena leaders, global female activists, and trailblazers in business, politics, entertainment and media. Throughout the week, students attend presentations on real-world challenges, and are tasked to work together to find solutions.
Following the Forum, each student returns to their communities and puts their training into action. They develop projects to address pressing societal issues that range from economic empowerment to the environment, public health, education, political and public leadership, and human rights. Participants can then apply for Project Grant funding to help bring their ideas to life. To date, HERlead has funded more than 246 social impact projects.
The Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) is an after-school program that transforms local middle and high school students into real, confident entrepreneurs. Through the six-month program, students in high school students work closely with local business leaders to cultivate and research business ideas, write business plans, pitch to a panel of investors, obtain funding, develop their brand and launch their business or social movement. The program is offered across the country in several locations, including Palo Verdes, California.
Quarter Zero offers participants the opportunity to create a startup, activate an entrepreneurial mindset, and get support from peers and mentors. High school students who participate in a 50-day Catapult Incubator program are given the support to create and pitch a startup venture. Its program is based on 3 pillars of entrepreneurship:
- Discover and Ideate
- Prototype and Test
- Prepare and Pitch
High school entrepreneurs who inspire us!
Stuck for inspiration? Worried the pandemic makes the challenge impossible? These high school students have proven themselves in the startup world with their business and social pursuits so read on.
- Josh Feinsilber from Seattle founded Gimkit, a live quiz learning application that allows teachers to create “game kits”. The kits quiz students and gives them an award when they have learned and memorized different concepts. Participating classes build the Kit by each student contributing a question.
- A team of high school students in Irvine, California are offering online tutoring during the pandemic to help students struggling with distance learning. Alex Yan, Arvin Ding, Annette Yuan and Cindy Duang formed the nonprofit StudySmart Youth Services to offer tutoring in math, one-on-one English conversation practice and coding classes.
- At 16, Jeremy Miller started a skateboard manufacturing company, Void Longboards, which he used as a vehicle for helping others and building community while searching for an escape from depression.
- Three high school students in Australia created Envision Marketplace, a booming e-commerce platform, during COVID-19. The platform is set up for students to sell their products online, for a percentage commission. Since its inception on August 28 this year, it’s processed more than $7,000 in sales.
- Shubham Banerjee built a low-cost braille printer using Intel Edison technology to help give blind people an affordable way to read. He decided to give away the design and software for free, uploaded building instruction on his YouTube channel. In 2014, he established Braigo Labs, naming his mother as President because at the time he was still a minor.
“In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”
John F. Kennedy
Still unsure whether to take the plunge? These stats will convince you!
Even though we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, it might just offer the opportunity to think creatively and build new solutions to the problems we are facing. Here are some promising statistics that may just convince you that now is the best time to get started!
- 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies have been founded in a recession or declining market.
- Only 20 percent of businesses fail in their first year.
- 61 percent of teen girls have thought about starting a business, compared to 54 percent of boys.
- The US is the best country for entrepreneurs with a a Global Entrepreneurship Index of 83.6.
- 78 percent of entrepreneurs say work experience is more helpful than a college degree when it comes to starting a business!
Want some work experience with a startup to help you get moving?