08/14/2013 07:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Going Home: The NFTE Business Camp in Newark

It was like going home again when on Friday, August 9, I went to Newark, New Jersey, to visit the NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) program at Rutgers University, generously sponsored by our friends at E*Trade Financial, AECOM, SAM's Clubs and Ernst and Young.

My heart racing and my mind full of memories of some of our first entrepreneurship programs taught at this very site, I walked into this legendary school and met the 23 students in the program.

I was proud that they were some of the brightest, budding young entrepreneurs in the Newark area. They were going through NFTE's two-week BizCamp taught by one of our best teachers, Joshua Harris, who greeted me at the door as I walked in. I arrived during a market selling day. The students had already been to the wholesale market in Manhattan to buy their products, had created their posters and flyers, and now were trying to sell their products and make a profit. I walked around to each vendor and bought things, negotiating with each student for a good price. I was trying to determine if they were sure of the Economics of One Unit, to see if they had a firm grasp on the concepts of selling high and buying low, and meeting a consumer need. I also wanted to share my feedback on their display, graphics and their overall demeanor and energy levels -- all key ingredients in a solid business model. It was a wonderful experience.

As I got half way around the room, one of these young entrepreneurs stopped me and said "Mr. Mariotti, do you own a cell phone?" I said, "Of course I do." She then proceeded to show me five things I didn't know about my iPhone, including how to use the FaceTime feature, how to alter the brightness, and a few other great tips. I asked her how much she wanted for the consulting session -- $10. Because she taught me so much, I was happy to have her and her business partner $10 each. Her business idea was centered on teaching customers how to better utilize their iPhones. I realized how much they had learned as I finished with my rounds of buying from each student. Each had a product, a marketing tool, a sales strategy, a price and a contribution margin. Not a bad beginning to a small business career. As I walked with the students back to class, I felt joy as I recalled getting a meeting with Ray Chambers 25 years ago in 1987, in his office in Morristown NJ. In this game-changing 30-minute meeting, he invested $200,000 to help start NFTE -- this unique non-profit which specializes in teaching entrepreneurship to low income youth.

One of our first programs in 1988 was 100 yards from where I stood with the students -- 25 years later and so many dreams had come true! I was flooded with these memories and shared them in detail with the students as a way of teaching the craft of raising capital. I spent the last segment of the day discussing branding with the students. I taught the value of media by showing them how I was going to write a blog about my visit to the class for Huffington Post.

We talked about the importance of media in building a brand and how important the setup of the article was to get people interested in reading the story and effectively communicating a key message. I talked about how important the visuals were for the media -- getting the picture right to communicate the ideas in the story. We spent a lot of time getting organized for the picture, making sure to get it right so that our message of our summer entrepreneurship camp could be shared with millions of people. I told them about getting NFTE off the ground, and stressed the importance of building the brand. My aim in 1987 was to brand NFTE as the top youth entrepreneurship program in the world -- a goal that has been achieved nearly 25 years later.

On Friday, August 16th, these students will present their business plans for their entrepreneurial ideas. I will be there watching and cheering. I look forward to NFTE continuing our program in Newark, a great town built by entrepreneurs.


NFTE Teacher Joshua Harris talking with students Sahara Harris and Nakaiyah Patterson