Business Rx: Fostering entrepreneurial skills in the next generation

The first hint of warm weather inevitably has some kids dragging their plastic chairs and crayon signs to the curb in neighborhoods throughout the Washington region to hawk lemonade by the cupful. If your child has the “entrepreneurial bug,” there are more ways to encourage it, including several local summer camps that focus on entrepreneurship and technology innovation.

To help you figure out whether your child might be the next Bill Gates, we sat down with Asher Epstein, managing director of the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, and J. Robert Baum, associate professor of entrepreneurship, beginning with that age-old question:

Q: Are entrepreneurs born or made?

Baum: The studies point to both. Some people have natural characteristics that inspire and support entrepreneurship, and others have experiences in life that can foster those characteristics and tendencies.

Epstein: Both. Entrepreneurs are people who understand opportunity. You can be taught how to recognize opportunity and how to systematically pursue opportunity. Some of those skills you are born with, but I believe that you can make an entrepreneur.

Q: What are the key characteristics common among entrepreneurs?

Baum: Entrepreneurs are risk takers and experimenters. They are willing to take chances that others might not be willing to take and if things don't work out they won't quit, they'll try something else in the same area. Entrepreneurs are energetic, full of self-confidence, and have a need for achievement. Often times, they have an interest in control and a need to set goals for themselves.

Epstein: Entrepreneurs are comfortable with uncertainty. The world is full of uncertainty, businesses are full of uncertainty. You have to be comfortable with an uncertain outlook for your business. Entrepreneurs have internal discipline. They are not coming to work because someone is telling them to; they are coming to work because they know they have to. Entrepreneurs have integrity. They have to convince investors, advisers, customers, employers, partners, etc., to work with them because they have a compelling vision that is going to work.

Q: How can you spot those entrepreneurial characteristics in young children?

Epstein: I have young children and I look for a solution-oriented approach to problem solving. The world is full of problems and full of obstacles. The entrepreneurs are going to figure out how to get around them and how to get through them. If your child is creative, likes solving problems, and if he or she is focused and determined to get things done, they are showing the early signs of an entrepreneur.

Q: How can you foster entrepreneurial tendencies in children?

Epstein: If they show interest, get your kids out there selling stuff and solving problems. Running lemonade stands, dog-walking services, things like that. Entrepreneurship is a full-contact sport. You've got to be out there in the lab experimenting every day, not just in a classroom talking about it.

Baum: A lot of entrepreneurs who end up in our classes had some sort of exposure to entrepreneurship growing up -- whether in a parent, someone they ran into or someone they worked for -- and they were impressed with characteristics of that type of career. Having summer camps revolving around entrepreneurship is another way of exposing that type of career choice to folks, no matter how young they are.

In the camps, I'd like to see role-playing. For example, ask the kids if they wanted to sell T-shirts, what would they do first. Create scenarios for them so they can see what entrepreneurship is all about. The camps could also expose them to great models, such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Knowing how they started can be inspirational.

Q: Are entrepreneurship lessons only for future entrepreneurs?

Epstein: Absolutely not. We are teaching a course right now in entrepreneurial skills for life for 60 undergrads from across colleges at the University of Maryland. Entrepreneurship is about doing more with less, leveraging resources, being creative in solutions and really trying to recognize opportunities. Those are life skills that are important no matter where you are no matter who you are no matter what you are doing.

Here are some local summer camps with an entrepreneurship and technology focus:

Arlington County: TEAM: Teen Entrepreneur Amusement Management (ages 13 to 17) -- Teens receive hands-on training on topics such as small business ownership, the “dos and don'ts” of starting and operating a business, workshops on the key ingredients of successful businesses, money management, diversity, communication and leadership.

Howard County: Technology with iCamp (ages 8 to 11) -- Campers are encouraged to design their adventures as young entrepreneurs, creating their own logos and business cards to personalize a quest.

Montgomery County: Camp DigiTech (ages 10 to 17) -- Students work together and use state-of-the-art technology to create stunning digital presentations, blog and build Web sites.

Prince George's County: Entrepreneur Camp (ages 12 to 17) -- Participants learn the basics of how to start a business and the principles of life success through interactive games, field trips and physical activity.

Washington, D.C.: iD Tech Camps (ages 7 to 17) -- Create iPhone and iPad apps, C++ and Java programs, Web sites with Flash and more with the products experts use in their professions.

 
Read what others are saying