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Adventures of a High School Educator, Part 1: Meeting the Claremont Community

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To read Part 2, click here.

It started with an email from Cody Chang, one of our NFTE-New York 2006 alumnus and a top student-entrepreneur in the country. We had kept in touch since his high school freshman year. He is now an undergraduate senior at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) and wanted me to speak about NFTE for Professor Sarah Smith Orr's book chapter on Social Entrepreneurs.

What was supposed to be a 30-minute conference call ended up being 2.5 hours in the fall and three months later on February 10th, I found myself on an early morning flight from New York City to L.A. to speak at this legendary college. I arrived at the Claremont Colleges (Claremont McKenna, Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, and Pitzer College) on the evening of the 10th and soon learned that Prof Smith Orr, in addition to teaching, the class Leading Social Entrepreneurial Ventures, is also the Executive Director of the Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI), one of CMC's many institutions for fostering leadership among students. NFTE's CEO, Amy Rosen, graduated from Pitzer College, and one of our National Board Directors, Mary Myers, a leading philanthropist was a Trustee at Harvey Mudd College.

On Monday, I spoke at a noon luncheon as part of KLI's Social Innovation Distinguished Speakers Series to over 100 academic members of the Claremont community. My heart was beating with excitement as my memories of 1995 came back. Henry Kravis a graduate of the school met with me and three of our NFTE alumni for three hours in his office to talk about the entrepreneurial lessons he had learned from his career as co-founder of perhaps the most successful private equity firm of all time: KKR. Henry had been a wonderful friend to me -- a junior high and high school educator -- and our top entrepreneurial students and I was eager to tell the story of his help. I enthusiastically told how Mr. Kravis had sat in KKR's board room board room overlooking central park with three low-income minority teenagers who were just starting up in business, and guided them through insights into raising capital, building teams, marketing and the crafts of entrepreneurship and ownership. It was one of the best informal talks I have ever seen in business education.

After sharing my personal business background and my inspiration for launching NFTE, I outlined the 12 things every young person should know about business.

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Steve Mariotti speaking at Claremont McKenna College's Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

They are:
1. The Importance of Mental and Physical Health
2. Appreciate the Joy & Passion for Opportunity Recognition and Idea Generation
3. The Economics of One Unit -- its value in entrepreneurship
4. The Laws of Supply and Demand drive business decisions
5. Never forget -- Don't Compete, CREATE a Comparative Advantage
6. Focus on Wealth Creation
7. Marketing; the Art of Putting Yourself in the Customer's Shoes
8. Develop your leadership skills by helping others
9. Make yourself comfortable with Financial Statements and internalize Return On Investment and Breakeven
10. Master the Art of the Basic Sales Call
11. Plan to build teams by going through the process of developing and discussing a Business Plan
12. Follow the golden rule. It is the most important aspect of success

After my talk, I joined two other NFTE Alums, Ivannia De Alba (Bay Area), Vincent Quigg (Greater LA), and Cody on a panel to discuss the power of youth entrepreneurship and the pivotal experience NFTE played in the lives of our alumni. Ivannia, a financial executive at Facebook, talked about how her business plan for her small business in high school helped her get her first job. She showed it to her prospective employer and he immediately hired her. The portfolio of work she had done in our program became even more important than her resume. Vincent, one of the top young entrepreneurs in the country, impressed with his discussion of markets and focusing on the customers.

NFTE's Greater LA team, Estelle, Megan, Nadia and Emily were also there with me and I was so proud of them and the team they had built. After lunch I asked them how they had produced three of the top young entrepreneurs in the country in such a short period of time. Estelle's answer resonated with me.

"Our NFTE LA staff provides a rigorous mentoring schedule for our national competitors, beginning the summer before they compete nationally. We are extremely fortunate because Los Angeles is an entrepreneurial hotbed, ranking third in entrepreneurial cities globally. Our volunteer mentors work with students tirelessly, and our Los Angeles Regional winners earn a scholarship to a month-long entrepreneurship program taught by USC professors. Vincent also gained incredible visibility through winning Ernst & Young's Young Entrepreneur of the Year. " So that is their secret.

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(From L to R) Nadia Shahin, Vincent Quigg, Ivannia De Alba, Steve Mariotti, Emily Alonso, Sarah Smith Orr (Executive Director of Kravis Leadership Institute), Cody Chang, Megan Dipane, Estelle Reyes. Photo credit: Elizabeth Farr.

After lunch we attended a Q&A from students of Professor Jay Conger's class and visited the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on campus. Instead of the traditional, technical business questions, the students asked about motivation, building an entrepreneurial skillset, and identifying meaningful collaborative relationships. I later listened to some of the most fantastic elevator pitches for social ventures during my stay at Prof Smith Orr's class. Her students were applying practical solutions to solve local, regional and even international problems of education, medical care, and poverty. Her Teaching Assistant and our NFTE Alumnus, Cody, had an international perspective himself. He currently is raising money for his venture in China, the country of his ethnic origin, and will continue there upon graduation.

CMC and KLI truly live up to their mission for teaching leadership. The students were smart, poised, and emphatic. Not surprisingly, Prof. Conger, Chair of KLI, was named by BusinessWeek the best business school professor to teach leadership to executives and one of the top five management education teachers worldwide. Prof. Smith Orr is a dedicated social entrepreneur and instructor of social entrepreneurship having published on Social Entrepreneurial work and co-taught with Peter Drucker, the Father of Modern Management for one of his last classroom teaching engagements. The Kravis Leadership Institute's presence can be felt all over campus through the dedication to improvement. The caliber of these students and professors rivaled any top institution in the world.

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Steve Mariotti & Sarah Smith Orr in front of the Kravis Leadership Institute. Photo credit: Vaiddehi Bansal.

The next day I met with professors from the education school at Claremont and we had a spirited discussion about entrepreneurship and social justice. I told them of my reading of Fanon's book, Wretched of the Earth, that told the story of those who had lost their homes and livelihoods to war and conquest. But in my opinion, the answer was not in continuing and expanding state control but rather in bringing entrepreneurship and ownership to the poor. If every one of the 75 million unemployed young people could learn to start a small business, some of the horrors of poverty would begin to disappear -- universal ownership education of the poor is the best long term strategy for anti-poverty in my opinion. Rallying the top college students to this cause is something I enjoy doing and learning from young students about their dreams to improve the world using their unique knowledge is exhilarating. My whole experience at Claremont started with such a top college student. Cody and his relationship with NFTE and Claremont brought me to interact with students, educators, and entrepreneurs beyond the intellectual and theoretical level.

The next day, I would visit a private prep school and there I would witness firsthand how a collaborative relationship between the community, the college, and all local stakeholders developed. Claremont was a pathway between one of the top leadership institutes in the world to an entrepreneurship program at the high school level and even to the community at large. Our own NFTE growth plan entails increasing the number of young people in entrepreneurial education programs by using a digital strategy which hopefully can be replicated in the thousands of independent high schools across our nation.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post has been updated since its original publication.