Every year when the mercury rises, neighborhoods are dotted with kids' first entrepreneurial endeavors -- sidewalks, street corners and parks host lemonade stands. But these days the simple lemonade stand is being used for serious business thanks to an innovative yet simple idea: Lemonade Day. Kids sign up and get a workbook that teaches kids how to start, own and operate their own business.
Business education and entrepreneurship programs have long been taught at the graduate and undergraduate level but what would it look like if every child learned the basics of business before they graduated high school? Organizations like Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship [NFTE] are working in schools around the country using entrepreneurship education to reduce dropout rates and introduce teenagers to business. What if we reached kids before they entered middle school when they are at their most critical social and emotional development time? Experiential entrepreneurship education has an impact far beyond improving academic skills, even beyond inspiring the next Steve Jobs. At its root, entrepreneur education teaches kids life skills that they don't learn in a classroom -- the social and emotional skills that make them successful at life: how to manage money, leadership skills, how to get along with others, having a moral compass for your life and a vision for your future.
Business education can positively impact every child in America -- no matter their station, their age, their perceived difference.
Mari is 12 years old and a 4th year participant in Lemonade Day. Mari's mom and investor, LaShan, wanted to empower her daughter to take care of herself; to never be dependent on anyone. LaShan is a single mom, entrepreneur and works an additional full time job to provide for her daughter. Her first year, with $150 in startup expenses, Mari made $400 with her lemonade stand at their local Kroger's. Mari paid back her investor, put $200 in savings to invest in her stand the following year and bought a cell phone. From there, Mari's imagination and business savvy took off. She opened a year round business -- expanding to baked goods [under the Texas Cottage Law], developing a cook book and buying event permits to sell her lemonade at festivals and fairs. This year she expanded her marketing to facebook, twitter and even a website www.MariLeigh.com where you can invest in her stand online. Mari's goal is to supplement her mother's savings so she can go to college. In addition, Mari donates a portion of her proceeds to a different non-profit each year, and Mari doesn't take her philanthropic responsibilities lightly. She has become interested in world issues, researching nonprofits and seeking out opportunities to contribute to causes that mean the most to her. And now, equipped with TouchPads, you can find Mom and Mari on Friday nights swapping business advice, talking about the latest trends and articles on money. Perhaps more important, in the face of racial tensions that divided her small community of 3,500 this past year, Mari stood up to those who judged her by the color of her skin and said, " I can."
Social Motion Skills is a private program teaching social integration for children with autism spectrum disorders and learning differences. They have used Lemonade Day in their curriculum for two years. In public schools these kids are taught in special education programs sequestered from their peers. They are taught they are different. They are rarely invited to sleep overs, birthday parties or chosen for sports teams because they are in a body that presents itself differently. But when they graduate high school, they are expected to get a job and 'act normal.' Lemonade Day levels the playing field; they get to do things every other kid their age is doing. The children learn the social skills needed to integrate into a world beyond their isolated classroom. For these kids, it's the simple act of being able to go to the grocery store; learning that the term bounced check doesn't mean it acts like a rubber ball that changes their lives.
Clara and Eliza, homeschooled sisters, participated for the first time in Lemonade Day. 7 year old Clara had begun to learn about economics, how money works, and the differences between wants and needs. The sisters meticulously went through the lessons -- even visiting the Small Business Administration's website and completing a very detailed business plan. They comparison shopped, ran focus groups and recruited an employee (their 2 year old brother Eirick). Eirick was a very helpful employee and had a lot of fun helping his sisters. He's now taking initiative and wants more responsibilities; he wants to contribute and be a part of the family. Clara now comparison shops outside of the stand - even on trips to Costco for dog food. And Eliza, just 4 years old, has learned where money comes from [and how it goes away]. The parents see the kids' dreams morphing from being a veterinarian or doctor to opening their own clinic or practice. Their parents maintain that whether the kids become entrepreneurs or not, their new knowledge of how a business is run is going to make them better workers and students; they think about processes differently now, and ways to improve upon them -- and that's what will set them apart in the workplace and in the classroom.
While each child's story shares similar threads of how they learned to take responsibility, think analytically and apply the skills they learned to new ventures -- each story also contains a unique lesson specific to that child. Every child, no matter their family, background or demographic benefits from business education. A lemonade stand alone does not change a child's life but these experiential entrepreneurial lessons can. It's when that switch is turned on that they realize a greater potential; while they are building their business plan, asking for a loan, comparison shopping, interacting with customers, making their own money and contributing to their community. Maybe we don't give kids enough credit. However, we can give them the skills to become successful no matter what life throws at them. As Denver's Lemonade Day Champion, Nigel Alexander said, "I don't know if these kids are going to go on to become the next CEO of IBM or invent the next widget, but what I do know is if we don't do this, they won't."
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