Industrialist and philanthropist Charles Koch has spent years studying and promulgating what he calls “principled entrepreneurship”—the combination of “judgment, responsibility, initiative, economic, and critical thinking skills, and sense of urgency necessary to generate the greatest contribution.” To encourage those capacities in the next generation of Americans, he founded Youth Entrepreneurs in 1991 at Wichita High School North in his Kansas hometown. Initially an eight-week program, YE has since grown into a year-long entrepreneurship course, licensed by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, reaching more than 1,000 students each year at 36 high schools in Kansas and Missouri. All students are welcome, but at-risk students are YE’s target audience.
Youth Entrepreneurs teaches business basics via hands-on immersion. Every student writes a business plan, and YE encourages them to use their plans to launch real-life companies. The plans are judged in contests, with the prizes including scholarships and venture-capital funding. Students also visit working firms, learn from entrepreneur-mentors, and engage in sales competitions with their peers. Upon completion of the program they receive high-school credit and are eligible for community-college credit as well. “Instead of reading about being an entrepreneur, we got to do it,” says Crystal Lathrop, a 2000 YE alumna who currently owns her own small businesses in Wichita.
- YE website, youthentrepreneurs.org