A Publication of WTVP

When you were nine years old, did you know what the word “entrepreneur” meant? Today’s young people are not only familiar with what the word means, they are learning the entrepreneurial mindset so critical for success in the global marketplace at an earlier age than ever before.

It is important that young people learn about entrepreneurship from an early age since the nature of the workplace is changing and evolving. Freelance work, consulting and project-based jobs are on the rise. As Bud Grieves, 2010 JA Business Hall of Fame Laureate, told high school students in his keynote address at the JA Titan Business Strategy Competition a few weeks ago, gone are the days when someone can graduate, get a job with a good company and expect to stay there until retirement. “Today’s students need to be prepared to be flexible and ready to know which opportunities to take advantage of in order to be successful in life,” Grieves said.

In a June 2009 report from the Junior Achievement Innovation Initiative (JAII) and Gallup, nearly half of employees and employers surveyed felt the best time to learn entrepreneurship is in the K-12 grades, surpassing college and “on the job.” Only one in 10 felt entrepreneurship is an innate skill that comes naturally.

In central Illinois, Junior Achievement (JA) starts entrepreneurial education in the third grade program, called Our City. In this hands-on, experiential program, JA Classroom Consultant Volunteers teach students at participating schools about the skills people need to work in specific careers and how businesses contribute to a city. For example, in one Our City lesson, third graders learn to make group decisions necessary to start a restaurant, including what type of food to serve based on market research, how much to charge for meals and how to promote the restaurant.

Area high school students are also benefiting from the newly released JA Be Entrepreneurial program. Just over 200 students from Bloomington, East Peoria and Woodruff high schools, as well as Calvary Christian Academy in Normal, participated in the seven-session program taught by local business volunteers during the 2009-2010 school year.

JA Be Entrepreneurial focuses on challenging students, through interactive classroom activities, to start their own entrepreneurial venture while still in high school. Students are introduced to the elements of successful business start-ups, learn the importance of intentionally selecting and applying competitive advantages to an entrepreneurial venture, and learn to anticipate ethical dilemmas and consequences in making business decisions. Teachers were invited to submit the top student business plans from each class for the first Business Plan Challenge, which was judged by local entrepreneurs this spring.

JA Classroom Consultant Volunteer Michael Fricke, an attorney with Husch Blackwell Sanders, taught the program this year. “The JA Be Entrepreneurial program has been encouraging for me,” said Fricke. “Many of the students have never thought about any possibilities other than graduating, getting a job and following someone else’s orders. Through our discussions, some of them realize that starting a business and creating a new product or service isn’t as scary as it might seem, and hopefully it will lead to some of them becoming entrepreneurs in the future.”

High school students in central Illinois also experienced hands-on learning about entrepreneurship and business in the fourth annual JA Titan Business Strategy Competition on April 30, 2010 at Robert Morris University in Peoria. Eighteen teams from East Peoria, Dunlap, Limestone and Peoria Notre Dame high schools competed in the JA Titan business simulation. A team from East Peoria Community High School won the competition by having the highest performance index as a result of decisions made for their virtual company, Boss Inc., in a virtual marketplace.

Just a few years from now, today’s young people will be reaping the benefits of entrepreneurial education in our community as our future workforce. If you know any third graders who completed Our City this year, be sure to ask them what “entrepreneur” means and what kind of food will be served at their restaurant. iBi