THE BLOG

NFTE's Teacher Training -- The Key to the Replication of Entrepreneurial Education, Part 2: Raising the Money

02/22/2013 04:26 pm ET | Updated Apr 24, 2013

Read Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

In August of 1987, I decided to write to the Forbes 400 to raise money for NFTE, which was now a not-for-profit.

I remember Janet helped me edit the letter and came in early to sit with me at the table to handwrite the letters to each of the Forbes 400. Out of that mailing came my meeting with Ray Chambers on November 23, 1987. Ray became our first donor and I immediately hired Janet as the office manager.

Edie, Janet and I would talk about Edie's film career. One night, we all went to see Edie in her first film role which portrayed the relationship of some young people to the Hasidic Jewish community. We all were so proud of Edie, although the film did not work.

Once we got the first check, we opened an office at 6 Jones Street, but the neighbors complained and we moved to 173 West 23rd Street where we had an office on the top floor.

Chris Meenan joined NFTE full-time in July of 1988 and we spent the summer travelling and teaching summer business camps -- our big one at the Wharton School for Mike Milken's UCOP initiative. CJ had been teaching with me in the special education department at Jane Addams and I remember first meeting him when I walked around the corner and heard 15 students shouting -- "CJ, CJ, CJ." I thought anyone that had that magnitude of respect from students had to be a great teacher. We bonded immediately, and I think CJ is one of the greatest teachers ever. Juan Casimiro, a gifted special teacher, took over CJ's position at Jane Addams and soon became one of our top teachers, traveling with CJ and I. Scott, we met at a conference in San Francisco and he was soon running our New York programs and developed the licensee system NFTE uses to replicate to this day.

Six months later in December of 1988, we ran out of money, and desperate, we held the checks to vendors in the office as we had no money to operate. Although there was just CJ, Janet and myself, it was very stressful. Like a miracle, Mike Caslin called and I said: "We are broke." He immediately called his friends at JM Foundation who cut an emergency check the same night the Peter Jennings piece ran and then Ray Chambers agreed to cover our costs for the next six months. We were on our way. Mike became our CEO and provided leadership for 20 years.

While on 23rd Street, we decided to start getting serious on the lesson plans. Mike Caslin had the insight that we needed to standardize and we started planning our first ever teacher training. The first one was in Boston and it was a disaster. I write now so that other younger folks can learn from my mistakes. I talked nonstop for three days. People sat dumbfounded by my ignorance of adult teaching. Despite the poor reviews, I was undaunted and repeated the same mistake later in the year with a larger audience at Babson College. 105 teachers were deadened by a 40 hour non-stop lecture by Steve himself. Only years later was I able to see how poorly prepared I was to teach anything. Oddly, the very thing that had made me a good classroom teacher, I lost when I went into the teacher training mode.

But after two setbacks, I read the reviews and began to change. By 1993, our trainings were getting rave reviews. We became teacher oriented and started to use the techniques of group work, Socratic Method and experiential education. The training used my textbook as a reference. I had always known the truth of Paul Samuelson's remark that "if you want to impact the future, write the textbooks."

So, in 1982 I started writing what would become Entrepreneurship: Owning Your Own Future. Twenty years later in 2002, it won the Golden Lamp Award from the Association of Educational Publishers as the best textbook of the year, and then in 2010, it won the math award from AEP as the best math curriculum in America. In 2002, the teacher lesson plans also won as the best teacher materials.

In the '90s, our teacher training boomed. At one time we were training over 400 teachers a year. Some living legends came through teacher training. My mentor from the 80's in economics was the legendary Marilyn Kourlisky, who went through a training in the 90's. We all were excited when Charles Woodson, the football genius, walked in and was one of the best students we ever had. The gorgeous Chynna Phillips, a celebrity performer, also dropped by. And, Gary Schoenfield, who has done pioneering on-line work with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, graduated as a Certified Entrepreneurship Teacher (CET) about five years ago.
Pretty much every youth entrepreneurship program in the world aimed at high school or junior high aged kids has sent someone through our four day certification to be trained. Our professional development is 24 hours plus dight hours of web-based contact.

Our focus on teacher training had crystalized in 2000 thanks to a study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., financed by Goldman Sachs. After the study, we decided to focus on three areas -- teacher training, curriculum development and alumni services -- and get out of the time consuming and costly efforts of running businesses for kids. I can say confidently that with all three, we have become the world leaders in our niche.

In 2007, the leadership of Rupa Mohan and Neelam Patel began to shine through and our trainings went to an even higher level. Neelam had taught elementary school for seven years and was a top PhD student at Columbia University. Rupa, raised in New Jersey, had attended Horace Mann, graduating in 1999. Both of her parents were doctors in their own practice and Rupa's was interested in the entrepreneurship community. She applied to the elite Babson College which specializes in entrepreneurial education and in her junior year met our CEO Mike Caslin who was visiting Babson and began an Internship.

Rupa joined us after graduating as a New York program manager and four years later became Vice President of programs and teacher training. Rupa brought a huge asset to our teacher training with her program experience. She pioneered in improving our teacher awards both locally and at our national awards gala.

Immediately, Neelam and Rupa began to standardize the trainings. The big breakthrough was hosting four day training in 2008 at Goldman Sacks for our top Certified Entrepreneurship Teacher Instructors -- CETI's -- to get everyone on the same page.

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NFTE Teacher Training for Bright China Foundation. Henry To, Founder of the Bright China Foundation seated far left. Rupa Mohan, NFTE VP Programs, seated far right.