Encouraging Entrepreneurship in Teenagers

Through engaging, interactive and hands-on workshops

Michael Freer
Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

I was fortunate to have an amazing Business Studies teacher at secondary school. She inspired me to explore the world of business as I do today. She had the right approach with us, spoke with enthusiasm and energy and made her own clothes. She stood out from the rest for a number of other reasons too.

This was despite the fact that the majority of our work was paper or case study based.

We never set up a lemonade stand.

We never sold cookies door to door.

We only once had to come up with business ideas.

[Mine were a penbrella and bodybrella, I don’t think I need to elaborate further. Perhaps both more revealing of where I grew up rather than my business acumen at that age.]

Fast forward 18 years, and I find myself teaching teenagers very similar things albeit with the modern jargon, theories and tools. What I did decide though, was things would be more teenager proof, and to do this I shook things up.

Make it relevant

‘Sir, I’m never gonna use this in the future.’

We’ve all heard it, and some of you may have said it, but when you’re doing Pythagorean theorem for the 124th time you do start to wonder whether you’ll need to remember those equations in your adult life.

There has been a shift to show students how they will use things they learn in school later on, but let’s be honest, at 15 you’re only thinking about liking posts on Instagram, playing on your PlayStation, hanging out with friends etc. Your future is far from your mind.

So, in order to make entrepreneurship relevant, we come up with a product or service that they can actually offer or produce. A lot easier when working with vocational schools for sure, but normally you’ll find two or three students that have a skill or hobby which can be used. If there really isn’t anything then let the students come up with something new. Even if it’s not reasonable they’ll soon realise this and change.

Once the product is theirs, and they want it to succeed, everything they do is now relevant. They’re not being asked to think about a case study of another business, or fake numbers from a book, but instead really look into their own idea and see whether it’s feasible or not.

Accountability

Normally we use exams as a way to get kids studying. As the exam period nears, stress increases and for the majority, so does the amount of studying. However, as we know, stress isn’t a great thing and we’d all prefer to avoid that dread. Luckily, accountability can come in many forms.

To do this with entrepreneurship, we set an initial date to launch their product or idea. In some cases, I must admit, this date has been delayed, but that accountability ensured buy-in from the students. Stress still plays a part, as they are mainly motivated by the air of worry that if they didn’t have something to show, they’d be stood there in front of hundreds of people expecting something. When they are engaged though, they want something to be proud of instead.

Further to that, and since I focus on social entrepreneurship, we stick to a promise that they decide how the profit is spent, as long as it is school related — a trip, a party, contributions to their graduation ball, it’s all in their hands. Most recently the class decided to plant a tree and have a class party.

The more work they put in, the higher chance of success, and therefore the potential to fund something amazing from their profits.

Feed them the way they like

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Viber, YouTube. The list goes on. Messaging, images and videos. Read or record and send. Flick through. Double tap. Like, love, laugh, get angry or cry. Three seconds to make that decision. Next video, next photo.

Whether you agree with it or not, this is how teens access information these days. I asked a 15 year old which site she reads the news on. Her answer was Instagram, as it was quick and easy to understand. No wonder certain celebrities or politicians do so well.

How do you translate this into the classroom?

Fast decision-making, but with the knowledge that you can always improve or change them later on.

Short, snappy tasks with a time limit no longer than a YouTube video or pop song. That’s all the attention you’ll probably get. If you have a bigger task, break it down.

Individual, partner work or small teams, just like on SnapChat. Be clear which one you are after from the outset.

Let’s not forget, actually utilising the tools they use. Record them practising their pitch and put it on a private YouTube link for them to watch. Get them creating advertising campaigns including photos and videos using hashtags.

This is their domain, listen to their ideas.

I’m not a teacher

I’m in a lucky position. With most of the students I work with, I’m only there for half a day every two weeks, at most. The ‘teacher’ effect never has a chance to sink in. Similar to the differences between being the parent or the uncle/aunt, I benefit from being fairly novel and never the disciplinarian.

Since entrepreneurship is a process of trial and error, test and improve, you need to adopt a slightly different role anyway. There are steps we can follow, but there is no single equation that will lead to success. There are gut feelings and sometimes a sense of doing things for the sake of it. You can’t teach these things, and therefore your role here is as a mentor or guide.

Decision-making should be taken on by all, success or failure is a shared concept and you’re there to introduce themes or topics, keep things moving forward and provide structure. If you feel you’re propping the project up, then you’ve gone wrong somewhere. If you’re the only one running around before the launch day, you haven’t removed your teacher shackles.

So make sure you start as you mean to go on, get the students owning the project, making the decision and doing the work largely without your input.


I hope you’ve been extremely underwhelmed by the suggestions above. They are nothing novel, unique, and have been done numerous times in many places.

Ask yourself, are they being done at my local school, are the teachers doing similar things, are the students learning in an engaging way.

If the answer is no, then it’s time to try and change it, and demand a better, more hands-on, interesting and revitalised way of teaching.

Michael Freer

Written by

Social enterprise enthusiast, avid traveller and fiction writer.

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