06/17/2013 05:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Interview With Maria Jimenez, A Top Youth Entrepreneurship Educator

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Young Entrepreneur Showcase presented by Terry Bowman of NFTE NY Metro and SAP. This event showcased incredible projects by aspiring young entrepreneurs at the 6-9 grade level. These students were enrolled in Exploring Careers, the latest youth entrepreneurship program from NFTE, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. For students, this is an opportunity to pitch their unique business ideas to a visiting audience and a panel of Judges who awarded the top projects in five categories: fashion and apparel, lifestyle and education, mobile apps and software, tech innovation, and audience choice. Exploring Careers gives young people a chance to develop business ideas in a comprehensive way, guided by NFTE teachers. I had the chance catch up with one of the world's leading youth entrepreneurship teachers, Maria Jimenez, who helped bring these students through this exciting program. She has done an incredible job working directly with these inspiring young people.

SM: What is your background?

I graduated from Queens College in 1999 with a Bachelor's Degree in English, and a double minor in Secondary Education and Sociology. After I became a teacher, I pursued a Master's Degree in Reading Education also through Queens College and became certified as a Reading Specialist in grades K-12. In addition, I continued my studies and received a certificate as a School Building Leader and another one as a School District Leader from The College of Saint Rose. I have been teaching at I.S. 10 Horace Greeley Intermediate School in Long Island City, N.Y. for the past 14 years. It has become my second home, and my colleagues are like family, so much so that my own children attend the school where I teach.

SM: How did you get interested in teaching?

I became interested in teaching due to my love of the English language. I enjoyed reading and writing so much during my college years that I decided to major in English, and then asked myself, "How can I extend my love of literature and language further?" I then minored in Secondary Education and coupled my passions with teaching. It was a perfect combination. It allowed me to display my knowledge of authors and writing techniques as well as shape young minds. By educating, I was able to watch my students' ideas evolve from brainstorming to publishing. It allowed me to channel my love of writing and my appreciation of literature by exposing them to a variety of things. With my Master's Degree in Reading Education, I was able to focus on struggling students with a variety of reading difficulties and service them in that area. For the past 14 years, I have taught mainly English Language Arts to seventh graders, but have also taught Title 1 Reading, and Academic Intervention Services (AIS). Within the AIS program, I now teach the NFTE curriculum, which mainly focuses on young entrepreneurship.

SM: In your opinion what value does youth entrepreneurship have to your students?

Young entrepreneurship and the course that I teach my seventh graders through NFTE (Exploring Careers), has a tremendous value to the population I teach. In today's world, my students find themselves at a loss as to where to turn and what career goals to follow. In today's job market, there is tremendous pressure on them to choose the appropriate path that will lead them to financial success and independence. This course provides yet another alternative and possibility in their lives... why not be an entrepreneur? Why not be your own boss and work for yourself? Most of my students have never considered this option, but after they take my course, I would say more than half of them realize that their lives are full of endless possibilities and choices, some of which they can make happen for themselves. They learn the basics of running their own business, as well as the risks, rewards, values, and relationships involved in such an undertaking. They walk away understanding that entrepreneurship is a huge responsibility full of benefits as well as hardships. I have no doubt that some of them will in fact become successful entrepreneurs.

SM: Tell us about some of the business ideas your children have.

In order to pass my course, students must learn all the components of a business and how it's run, as well as the risks, rewards, and values of being your own boss. My seventh graders work in groups of no more than 5 students. They must brainstorm an innovative business opportunity, develop a 30 second pitch and a mission statement for their "company," and recognize the features and benefits of their product or service. In addition, groups must identify their target market and their needs and wants, demonstrate an understanding of how their product or service will satisfy those needs and wants, and set precise business goals. Groups are encouraged to develop prototypes for their businesses, design business cards and flyers, and record a commercial. Some students went as far as developing starter websites for their hypothetical businesses. Select groups will be then chosen to compete in a citywide Expo, where they present their mock businesses along with other middle school students. This year, my students' ideas exceeded my expectations. Below are some notable business ideas:

  • Brace Tunes- a Bluetooth bracelet that is linked to your music device, allowing you to change the songs without risking theft
  • U-Park- an app that allows you to pay for parking using any mobile device
  • Pen Pocket- a detachable pocket that attaches to the spine of a notebook and holds pens and pencils
  • Clean It Up- a biodegradable liquid that dog owners spray on their dogs' waste
  • Pet Provider- an app that allows you to control your pet's food dispenser through any mobile device
  • Cook It For You- a voice activated microwave
  • iClothes- an app that coordinates the outfits you own and suggests what to wear based on the weather

These teams, along with six other teams, joined NFTE's New York Metro Young Entrepreneur Showcase this year which was held on May 23, 2013. Brace Tunes won for the category of Best Technology and Audience Favorite and Pen Pocket won for the category of Lifestyle. I was extremely proud of all participants! It was gratifying to see their concepts evolve from thoughts to fruition.


Ms. Jimenez with the winners for Best Technology and Audience Favorite- BRACE TUNES.

From left to right, Brando Rugerio, Jocelyn Marine, Kayleen Tapia, Ms. Maria Jimenez, Justin Alegria, and Osama Mobarak.


Ms. Jimenez with the winners for the category of Lifestyle, PEN POCKET, Namgyal Choedon and Aston Gray


Asia Gori, with teammate Naweera Qasim, delivers her 30 -econd pitch for their company, TECH FOOD, as judges listen.


Syeda Shosrabdey and Eliana Rivera discuss their company, PET PROVIDER,
and the judge asks questions.