Turn­ing ‘street smarts into busi­ness smarts’

An en­trepreneur­ship pro­gram for teens in South L.A. is in the works

Los Angeles Times - - Monday Business - Cyn­dia Zwahlen small­biz@latimes.com

When Les Jones drives the streets of the Wil­low­brook neigh­bor­hood of South Los An­ge­les where he runs a Boys & Girls Club, he doesn’t see the kind of small busi­nesses he be­lieves are needed to serve as role mod­els for young peo­ple.

“Un­for­tu­nately, in this com­mu­nity it’s ei­ther chains, or liquor stores, or check cash­ing or fast food,” Jones said. “Kids can’t get an idea that when they grow up, they could cre­ate their own pos­i­tive thing.”

He hopes a youth en­trepreneur­ship pro­gram to be of­fered at the Watts/Wil­low­brook Boys & Girls Club next year will start chang­ing that.

The pi­lot pro­gram, to be funded by a $100,000 fed­eral grant, will teach young peo­ple ages 14 to 18 what it takes to turn an idea into a new ven­ture. Lead­er­ship train­ing, team-build­ing ex­er­cises and men­tor­ing will be in­cluded.

“We want to build more self-con­fi­dence and have them learn more about lead­er­ship and why com­mu­nity is im­por­tant and what their role would be in the com­mu­nity as they grow up,” said Sheneui We­ber, a pro­gram or­ga­nizer and head of the Los An­ge­les Re­gional Small Busi­ness Devel­op­ment Cen­ter Net­work at Long Beach City Col­lege.

De­tails are still be­ing worked out, but We­ber hopes the pro­gram will be free and run once a week for 12 weeks. Pro­po­nents say en­tre­pre­neur­ial train­ing for youths can cut down on dropout rates and give at-risk young peo­ple a fo­rum to learn aca­demic and so­cial skills and shape their own fu­tures in a pos­i­tive way.

Trans­form­ing “street smarts into busi­ness smarts” is how Steve Mar­i­otti, founder of the Na­tional Foun­da­tion for Teach­ing En­trepreneur­ship, puts it. The one­time busi­ness owner and for­mer in­ner-city teacher founded the non­profit group in 1987 af­ter he dis­cov­ered he could mo­ti­vate his tough­est stu­dents by teach­ing them how to run a busi­ness. Based in New York, the foun­da­tion has an of­fice in Los An­ge­les and pro­vides cur­ricu­lum for lo­cal high schools.

“Talk­ing to poor kids about mak­ing money is one of the first times they get to think about some­thing that’s go­ing to di­rectly af­fect their life,” said Amy Rosen, the foun­da­tion’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. “They start think­ing about op­por­tu­nity in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Low-in­come high school stu­dents drop out at a rate six times higher than their high-in­come peers, she said. En­tre­pre­neur­ial train­ing can get high-risk stu­dents more in­ter­ested in stay­ing in school be­cause ed­u­ca­tion be­comes more rel­e­vant to their goals, she said.

But teach­ing kids about mar­ket­ing, fi­nance and busi­ness plans is dif­fi­cult if they lack math and writ­ing skills. And kids can be es­pe­cially wary of pro­grams that make big prom­ises, said Dar­ick Simp­son, head of the Long Beach Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Part­ner­ship and an in­struc­tor at an en­trepreneur­ship pro­gram at El Camino Col­lege. He is ex­pected to be the in­struc­tor at the Boys & Girls Club pro­gram too.

Still, he said he has suc­ceeded in get­ting young peo­ple in­ter­ested in en­trepreneur­ship by fo­cus­ing on their in­ter­ests in ar­eas such as videog­ra­phy and mu­sic.

“They may be gifted as artists or have some other tal­ent that clearly has en­trepreneur­ship sub­stance,” Simp­son said. “But I would try to en­cour­age them to un­der­stand that no mat­ter how tal­ented they are, there will come a point in time it will start to im­plode if they don’t have some for­mal busi­ness struc­ture in place.”

MO­TI­VA­TION: Les Jones, who runs the Watts/Wil­low­brook Boys & Girls Club, talks with An­thony Brown, 16. Jones wants youths to have “an idea that when they grow up, they could cre­ate their own pos­i­tive thing.”

FU­TURE: Jones looks for­ward to the pro­gram, to be­gin next year.

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